Historical (Re)creations at Design Miami/ Basel

The pieces on display at Design Miami/ Basel 2013 have included groundbreaking new work – but a robust dialogue about global design culture would be incomplete without a discussion regarding historic innovation. Three booths in particular at this year’s fair have built powerful displays of highly significant interior designers. 

Jacksons gallery partnered with Gonzalez Haase AAS and Lee Mindel to develop a representational version of a patient’s room at the Paimio Sanatorium, both of which were designed by Alvar Aalto. Located in Paimio, Finland, the original sanatorium was commissioned as one of a number of sanatoria for the many people that became afflicted with tuberculosis between World War I and II. Jacksons is displaying an original bed and bedside table, as well as a washbasin, lamps, spittoon, and door, which were present at the Sanatorium until the 1960s. 

Officially inaugurated in June 1933, Aalto was commissioned to design not only the building, but nearly everything inside – including the lighting, sinks, bathroom shelves, and door handles. Aalto’s priority in designing the Sanatorium had been to promote the physiological and psychological recovery of the individual patient. 

Aalto advocated the well-being of those who were the most infirm and sick – those who spent the majority of their time lying in the hospital bed. The recreation of this room at Jacksons offers an unsettling yet profound glimpse into this space. 

George Nakashima, the acclaimed Japanese-American carpenter who created iconic, architectural works of furniture, was part of one of the darker periods in American history: interned during World War II, it was here that he learned from a man named Gentaro Hikogawa about using traditional Japanese hand tools, joinery techniques, and the use of found materials.

Sebastian + Barquet, founded in New York in 2005, specializes in American and European post-war design. At this year’s Basel fair the gallery is showing a wide selection of Nakashima’s oeuvre, presented in a landscape modeled on his Bucks County, Pennsylvania studio. The works range from tables, to chairs, to lamps – all indicative of Nakahsima’s trajectory as a woodworker.

Nakashima’s Conoid chairs – named after the studio that’s part of the larger property that he lived on and worked at – contain spindles of hickory on the backs and cantilevered floor runners. The design draws the eye and provides sturdiness, a combination of woodsy aesthetics and functional intent that Nakashima was known for. The dining table is made from a rejected log and is defined by his signature, freeform edges. 

A burl is a deformed outgrowth of a tree root, usually caused by injury or virus, and this coffee table is made from the burl of a redwood. Nakashima started working with these rare formations in the 1970s, and though he worked almost exclusively with hard wood, he decided to use this piece due to its dramatic figure and rouge hue. Nakashima, who set up his Foundation for Peace, was highly impacted by his experience and his work often reflected his desire to help those in need. 

Pierre Paulin was an influential interior and furniture designer from France. Jousse Entreprise is showing an impressive array of his work, representative of both the earlier and later decades of his career. From the seating, to the lighting, to the tables, all of the works display Paulin’s geometrically captivating style.

The pieces on display illustrate the forms Paulin was most interested in – his signature, curvaceous furniture formations and hypermodern, explicitly vertical lighting.

Paulin cemented his place in the history of interior design by creating experimental seating, starting with the principles of applied design rather than first focusing on comfort. The result was seating that was more rounded and surreal, while remaining pleasant and cozy. The pieces on display at Jousse Entreprise by Pierre Paulin showcase the movement from a strict adherence to functionalism as a point of departure, to the post-war focus on conjectural and avant-garde design.

Rob Goyanes