Bruce Irving's New England Icons

cover image courtesy of amazon.comThis is a bit unorthodox; I have neither read nor held a copy of New England Icons by Bruce Irving, so this is more of a reading/viewing wish-list post than a review or commentary.

You may know of Bruce Irving from his 17 years producing This Old House for PBS. He wears many hats: real-estate agent, renovation consultant, writer, editor, speaker, and, now, author. I believe I first learned of Bruce from his Design New England magazine department about icons. His interest in the houses, work buildings, local artifacts and places of New England overlaps to such a degree with mine that I also consider him a web neighbor. Plus, as a Cambridge resident, he's a New England neighbor, too.

With photography by Greg Premru, a forward by Norm Abram, and content including stone walls, sugarhouses, roof walks, skating ponds, icehouses, mills, and lobster boats, New England Icons sounds too promising to miss. Let me know at the KHS Facebook Page if you've had a chance to check out a copy. Happy reading.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast

The secret behind continuing ed. bliss

I remember an architectural coworker teasing me about my needing time to “take calligraphy classes or whatever”. I wasn’t taking a calligraphy class, and he knew it, but what struck me as so spot-on and funny about his dismissal of my extra-curricular pursuits is that I would have loved to have taken a calligraphy class then or now.

I’ve often pondered what it is about my “non-essential” creative endeavors that captivate me so. I look forward to them the way many anticipate a vacation on the beach or poolside. I find myself completely blissed out in a pin-hole photography class, a creative non-fiction workshop, or a plant-identification field-visit primer. What’s it all about?

mystery-of-being-human books
For a while now, I’ve been turning to books for the answer. There’s been a series of what I’ll call mystery-of-being-human books taking up space on my nightstand over the years, starting first with Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. Then, moving on to My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss, How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer, This Is Water by David Foster Wallace, The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely,  A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink, and most recently Happiness at Work by Srikumar S. Rao, Ph.D.

Of course, I read other books in between these, but it wasn’t until finishing Happiness at Work a couple of weeks ago that I realized how much overlap there had been in the books cited above, to which I had gravitated. For me, they all seem to support an aspect of some inescapable truths; we all long for sublime connections to people, experiences and/or entities outside ourselves, and it is within our power to realize those connections. David Brooks describes such a drive, identified by current research in neuroscience, psychology, sociology and behavior economics, as “limerence”.  Brooks explains in The New York Times that “… the unconscious mind hungers for those moments of transcendence when the skull line falls away and we are lost in love for another, the challenge of a task or the love of God”.

choosing how to perceive
Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist, had a transcendent experience in the midst of a stroke, which struck the left hemisphere of her brain. In My Stroke of Insight she writes,

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Reading recommendation: Yankee Modern: The Houses of Estes/Twombly

cover photo via amazon.comSomeone asked me if I like Modern houses the other day. It was a simple enough question, but I found myself delivering a convoluted answer. 

What do we mean by Modern? What does liking it or not liking it mean? Does the answer classify me as a member of one camp and not another?

I offer you Yankee Modern as a partial answer. It features ten houses by the Rhode Island firm of Estes/Twombly Architects. Both principles are fellow RISD alumni, with Estes graduating 20 years before me. 

Their work, by their own description, portrays a "quiet modernism, rooted in New England tradition". It's simple, straightforward, spare, and regionally inspired in design and material.

It's neither Modern (of the mid-century variety) nor traditional.  It is of today and of its place. And, yeah, I like it.

I like the photo-centric book too.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast

Reading recommendation: Outdoors

The Garden Design Book for the Twenty-first Century by Diarmuid Gavin & Terence Conran

cover photo by John GloverDespite temperatures that are reluctant to comply, today is the first day of spring, and, as such, a great day to sink into a lush garden book.Outdoors is a big (14” x 10 ¼”), beautiful book by an accomplished garden designer and celebrated taste-maker.It is at once inspirational and practical -- my favorite type of design book.

It’s organized by garden themes, including rural, urban, entertaining, natural, family, productive, and relax/work.Each chapter includes broad-stroke examples of design principles at work and one or two case studies which examine a specific garden in greater detail.Gorgeous photography from gardens around the world illustrates a wide range of styles, all exquisitely designed.I was particularly enamored with the “natural” and “productive” chapters, but I found treats sprinkled throughout the book.There are some fantastic topiaries in the “rural” chapter on pages 56/57, and others in the “family” chapter on pages 168/169.Not surprisingly, the “relax/work” chapter appealed to my fondness for backyard retreats too.

The primary, thematic garden chapters are framed by two, text-driven chapters. The first includes a conversation between the authors about their inspirations.The last, entitled “practical,” is just that; it offers insight into planning a garden and working with a garden designer, as well as plant and material lists to consider.

This one is a keeper.Give it a look.It just might rush spring-like temperatures along.

by Katie Hutchison for the House Enthusiast

Reading recommendation: Twofer

The Laws of Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life by John Maeda

As seen through the lessons gleaned from

My Stroke of Insight, a Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.

It’s serendipity that I read these two books back to back. Though their subject matters are divergent, they both spoke to me about the same thing: that we, as designers and individuals, have the capacity to perceive the complex with sublime simplicity, and to achieve the rewards of balance in our chosen fields and lives.

Curiously, the similarity between these books begins with appearances. Their covers are remarkably alike, both white with the title centered at the top, the author’s name centered at the bottom, and an illustration space in between. On Maeda’s, the primary image has an almost Spirograph look about it, which I took to represent the balanced middle, testing boundaries and swirling back toward the middle again. The primary circular graphic appears to be bouncing off the page to the right, while a smaller circular graphic comes into the frame, higher up and to the left, suggesting a steady stream of burgeoning ideas in development. Taylor’s cover illustration, a stained-glass representation that she made of the brain, rests on her book’s central axis. This supports her intention of sharing the beauty and clarity of the brain in balance. (See Taylor's TED talk here.) 

Maeda’s book defines nine (plus “the one”) laws of simplicity that can be applied to design, technology, business, and life. They are at once universal and specific. Since Maeda suggests that balance is vital to the laws of simplicity, I thought it would be fun to explore his laws from a left-brain/right-brain point of view, exercising my new understanding of the brain thanks to Taylor’s book. My aim was to discover if the laws of simplicity themselves represent the balance required to successfully enact them. Is simplicity a matter of left-brain or right-brain dominance, or the result of each working in balance?

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