Skip to content

LOVE IT: Brutalism

October 16, 2013


It’s either LOVE IT or HATE IT when it comes to brutalist design.  With the rise of Brutalist architecture in the 1960’s…the raw, often grotesque aesthetic leaked into interior decorative arts.  Brutalist design can be characterized by the rough, raw, heavily textured, and hand-crafted nature of pieces often out of torch-cut metals, molten bronze, or clay.  Some designs are a little creepy…but always compelling.  Some are asymmetric and organic in form, and others take shape with repeating geometrics and hefty proportions.  “Pretty” isn’t a word I’d use to describe Brutalist design, but there’s an undeniably striking beauty within the refinement (or intentional lack of) of these pieces.



(Above:  Adrian Pearsall wall-mounted bar cabinet.)


(Above:  Paul Evans Studio console.)


(Above:  Paul Evans console in room designed by Kelly Wearstler.)




(Above:  Harry Balmer lamps.)


(Above:  A later piece by Paul Evans exhibits a more glamorous side of Brutalist design.)

I love that a movement such as this began during a time of factory-produced fiberglass Eames chairs.  I think that’s why I love these pieces today…and why so many other people appreciate their worth in interior design (Just look at some auction results for a Paul Evans Studio piece!).  In a world of mass-produced, low-cost replicas and computer-designed and machine made products…the individuality of these designs add instant texture, personality and a human touch to a modern interior.



(Above:  In my office, a glossy black enamel wall sculpture with exposed brass and copper.)


(Above:  In my bedroom, a hand-crafted metal wall sculpture.  See my previous post about this!)



(Above:  On my living room side table, a hand-crafted steel sculpture entitled “the Matador”.  I love the pairing of this with my sleek brass lamp.)



(Above:  On my living room sideboard, a molten bronze sculpture.)

As the popularity of these vintage Brutalist pieces rises…so does the price of owning one!  Our website, VERN + VERA, has had a few Paul Evans pieces pop up for sale.  One piece ended up in the Louis Vuitton store in Paris!  A good way to bring a little Brutalism into your life at more obtainable prices?  Lamps!  Lamps are often much less expensive than other larger Brutalist pieces and they make MAJOR impact.  Take a look.


(Above:  Brutalist Laurel lamp by Harry Balmer.  Get more info.)


(Above:  Brutalist Laurel lamp by Maurizio Tempestini.  Get more info.)

LOVE IT: Angelo Mangiarotti

September 13, 2013

What makes us fall in love with something?  If we knew the answer, would we love it any more or less?  Isn’t it much more fun to just follow your gut?  To follow what mysteriously resonates with you in some way?  What we love helps to define us.  Surrounding ourselves with the people and things we love creates a beautiful life.  When furnishing and decorating your home, follow what you love.  In the end, that will be your statement of individuality, and it will create a curated design that speaks volumes about you.


To begin my “LOVE IT” series of inspiration posts, I want to spotlight a designer I’ve been totally obsessed with for years:  Angelo Mangiarotti.  Born in Milan in the early 1920’s, Mangiarotti created a vast range of stunning functional and decorative designs throughout his career as an architect, industrial designer, artist, and furniture designer.  After doing a bit of research, I discovered he spent a few years as a visiting professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology here in Chicago (which makes me love him even more!).  His fluid organic shapes, the materials he uses (marble, bronze, glass), and the resulting simplicity of his technically impressive designs stir something in me.  Here are some of my favorites:





min_Artemide 007



Mangiarotti’s designs command quite high prices, and they retain their value.  I can’t afford the $12,000 marble console, but I managed to score a few smaller pieces.  It’s always worth the investment to splurge a little on things you absolutely love.  Here are the two Mangiarotti pieces I’ve added to my collection.



(Above:  My Mangiarotti suspended glass screen sculpture from my last post.  Produced in 1967.)



(Above:  Newly acquired Mangiarotti Saffo glass table lamp illuminates my living room corner.  Produced in 1966.)


August 21, 2013


You’ve heard there’s strength in numbers, and I’m here to tell you it couldn’t be more true!  Nothing is better than seeing a collection of identical objects come together to create a beautiful mass.  I love how these collections allow you to customize the resulting form to suit your space.  Take a look at these inspiring collection of multiples I recently purchased for my own home.


(Above:  Vintage Nagel candleholders made in Germany.  These polished chrome beauties fit within one another to create interesting shapes and configurations.  With or without candles…they create a visually interesting form.)


(Above:  I used 18 pieces to make mine.  I hope to keep it growing!)


(Above:  Vintage Angelo Mangiarotti hand-made glass loops.)


(Above:  Me linking the loops to create a hanging glass sculpture over my sideboard.)


(Above:  Sculpture suspends from the ceiling using wire cables and specialty ceiling attachments.)


(Above:  The Mangiarotti screen seems to just float above the sideboard.  It also becomes a creative solution to disguise my thermostat!)

Play with your wood.

August 14, 2013


If you know anything about me, you know that I hate catalog-looking rooms!  I especially hate when all the wood finishes in a room match one another…making it look like all your wood pieces came from the same collection.  Many people seem to have a fear of mixing different species and finishes in their living spaces.  It takes a bit of careful selection, but it’s not as risky as you might think.

For nearly 3 years now, I’ve been living with a temporary side table next to my sofa under the suspended chandelier.  I scored the white laminate table on Craigslist for about $25.  I bought it to simply “test” the size.  I really liked having a super low statement under the chandelier as opposed to a standard height side table.  Many of the other surfaces in the room top out around 16″ high, so I wanted this table to say something different.  The temporary table’s dimensions were 35.5″ square and a mere 10″ high.   Totally 70’s style.


(Above:  The temporary white laminate table.  Size is great, but white laminate is NOT.)

DESIGN TRUTH:  Good things come to those who wait.

Fearful that this temporary table would become permanent,  I requested quotes for custom fabrication.  However, I really wanted to stay true to my mission of using vintage pieces throughout my home.  It wasn’t until 2 weeks ago that I had my “That’s it!” moment.  Seriously, if you wait long enough and keep your eyes open…you’ll find what you need!  Here’s what I ended up with:


(Above:  The new side table.  Utterly fabulous.  Sexy.  Shiny.  Unique.)

What I found was a 1970s coffee table with a high-gloss lacquer finish.  The wood finish is truly unique.  Ebonized and cerused using metallic graphite.  After the careful removal of its original black laminate base, the table came in at 36″ square and 10.5″ high.  I’d say that’s pretty miraculous!


Does it match my other wood finishes?  No.  Does it work?  Hell yes.  Why?  I’ll tell you.

I think of wood pieces as actors in a movie.  Some have a lead role and others have a supporting role.  Figural wood like rosewood usually assume the leading role.  Dark stained, neutral woods naturally take a second place (or supporting) role.  Mixing the two can be highly successful…as long as you pay attention to the colors, finishes and light values.  Here’s the breakdown of my mix, and why it works so well:



Rosewood species in natural oiled finish.  This is clearly the leading role in my mix!  The figural grain pattern ranges from light colors to extremely dark colors…making it an easy wood to mix with.  I opted to mix dark woods with it to keep my sexy vibe throughout the room.



Oak veneer in a very dark black-ish brown color.  Smooth surface with a satin finish.  This plays the supporting role in the room.  It almost becomes a neutral, as it blends with the floor color and mimics the darkest tones in the rosewood.



Ebonized oak with metallic graphite cerused finish.  This piece takes a role that’s between the leading and supporting roles.  It’s darkness reads more neutral in the space (picking up and referencing other color tones in the room), but the unique cerused finish pulls more attention (but not enough to threaten my other statement pieces).  It doesn’t compete in either category at the Oscars.


Have a leading role wood.  Have a supporting role wood.  Additional woods shouldn’t compete in either category.  Mix your sheen levels throughout to further distinguish.

Thin and Gorgeous.

July 18, 2013


Since finishing the bedroom, my motivation to complete other lingering projects throughout the home is increasing.  I’m going to ride this wave!  I turned my sights to the powder room.  I’ve completed the bi-fold doors, painted, installed the metallic wallpaper, and sourced the perfect art piece.  I feel like I’m sitting at the dinner table with two pieces of broccoli in front of me before my desert gets served…so CLOSE!


I’ve been living with a bare bulb hanging out of the wall from the wires and NO mirror since moving in nearly 3 years ago.  Guests don’t enjoy the room as much as I want them to.  When I have people over, I grab a mirror from our current Vern and Vera inventory and hang it temporarily.  That’s no way to live.  The powder room needs to be sexy.  I needs to create a cool vibe.  It only needs to function on the most basic level…the rest can just be pretty.  On to making my 1/2 bath functional by tackling the sconce and mirror.


Looks pretty typical, right?  Nothing special going on here.  One major problem caused my procrastination:  The junction box for the sconce over the sink was NOT centered above the sink.  It wasn’t just a little off…it was off enough to be noticeable.  The ugly “bath bar” fixture that came with the house covered up the off-center placement.  I needed to find a way to do that again without using a hideously ugly bathroom sconce.


I love the look of modern, minimalist bathrooms.  I can’t gut the place and replace all the fixtures…but I can be inspired to change the context of what I have!  Instead of hanging a traditional mirror above the sink and paying a contractor to come in and move my junction box, I opted to take on the challenge of creating minimal-modern with what I have.  I opted for tall and narrow wall mirror that rests on the sink top and extends all the way to the ceiling.  I decided NOT to frame it…simply adhere it to the wall.  The mirror was custom sized with micro-beveled and polished edges.  I also had a cut-out placed EXACTLY where it needed to be for the new sconce.  I just made sure not to cover the existing J box completely so I could still access the wires easily.


I chose a sconce that allowed for some flexibility during installation…yet I didn’t sacrifice style.  Minimal modern at its best with this pick (mine is chrome…not white).  I didn’t want to pull too much focus from the rest of the room.  I just needed something to emit the right light and essentially disappear into the mirror.  It creates the perfect mood in person.  Dim it for a party…turn it bright to pluck an eyebrow.




Brass Balls

July 8, 2013


After looking up the term “brass balls” on Urban Dictionary, I felt it was a great title for this week’s post about the completion of my bedroom in many ways.  Urban Dictionary defines the term as, “Refering to ultimate manliness, courage, or endurance that a man may possess.”


Ultimate Manliness

Who’s more manly than me?  Also, it’s a pretty manly bedroom.



I’ve recently had the courage to make necessary changes to complete the room.  Some of which involve a tiny bit of shame for making the wrong decisions a while back.  I sucked up my pride and did what I needed to do to get this darn room finished…regardless of prior mistakes and budget setbacks.  That’s courage.


Endurance That a Man May Possess

This fall will mark 3 years in my new home.  I’ve worked tirelessly to complete this project to perfection.  Lack of free time,  discouraging attempts to find the right lamps, and challenging creative projects didn’t stop me from getting it done!  I kept my goal in mind each time my motivation wavered.  That’s endurance.


Brass Balls?

Yeah…and the fact that my new (final) bedside lamps look like huge brass balls!  That reason in itself is enough to justify the post title.



(Above:  Bedroom BEFORE #1.  Looks OK…but not something that made me smile really big.)

Before I get to my brass balls, I’d like to walk you though the last steps I took to finish off my bedroom to perfection.  Once my artwork was installed, I realized I had a couple clashing patterns happening with the fabrics in the room that didn’t allow the art to shine properly.  The complicated pattern the artwork creates…and it’s large size…makes it the priority piece.  Other patterns needed to be eliminated, so the room didn’t appear too busy.  Think about your own artwork in your house:  Does your artwork support the rest of the room?  Does the rest of the room support your artwork?


(Above:  Bedroom BEFORE #2.  Too many patterns happening throughout the room left me underwhelmed when I installed the new artwork.  The lamps have pattern, the accent pillows have pattern, the rug has pattern, and the bench has pattern.  Too much!  From a previous post, you’ll note that I already changed that rug to something more beautiful.)


(Above:  By eliminating the heavily patterned fabric on the bench, I can finally appreciate the sexy lines of this piece.  Plus…clash elimination!)



(Above:  Ignore the lamps for a second…if you can.  I swapped the patterned Christian Liaigre pillows for Holly Hunt wool sateen beauties in a color pulled directly from the artwork.  Clash elimination!)

Now let’s talk about the brass balls, even though you’ve already caught a glimpse.  The previous lamps were great…but the Murano glass added an unexpected pattern.  I loved the height, conceptually…but felt the headboard needed something fatter…something with more visual weight.  Enter the brass balls.  These late 70’s beauties were an exciting find.  They add punch.  They’re major focal points.  They add color (brass can be a color btw!).  They make me happy.  The room is complete.




Tastemaker Tag Sale starts TODAY!

June 14, 2013

Do you share my passion for fabulous vintage furnishings?  Shop my carefully curated selection of collectible pieces in the Sean Michael Design Tastemaker Tag Sale…beginning right NOW!

Sale lasts 3 days, so get a move on!  Don’t let someone else beat you to that special piece.

Click here to access the sale.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 137 other followers

%d bloggers like this: