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A R T S w e e k

martin aller-stead

Reflective Journal, Day 3


On Saturday Feb. 16th., I visited the Interior Design Show at the National Trade Centre at Exhibition Place, CNE. I have always been fascinated by design, but really clueless about exactly what goes into it, so this was, truly, a potential eye-opener for me. I went with my wife, Gail, who is a design aficionado.

For $15 each, (plus $11 for parking), this was not a cheap outing. I feel I had a great opportunity to learn, though, and that the $$$ spent were a reasonable price for my education.

This year, more than others, there is an urge to retreat from the world and have an enhanced sense of security in one's private life. The events of September 11th., 2001, did not precipitate this notion but certainly urged it on with intensity and comprehensiveness. The displays highlighted what could be done indoors to create 'A Safe Haven', as the show advertised itself, with a feeling of security, homely comfort and acute attention to minutiae.

We started by visiting Harvest House's display, with a special 800-ft2 library designed by Kimberley Seldon of HGTV, in a somewhat scruffy style she called 'shabby château'. Her excursions into Gustavian style would, I feel, work better on the Prairies, where qualities of light are different than here, because of different pollution and variances in latitude, which cause light to prism differently.

What Seldon calls 'Gustavian' is clearly shown by the interior design and illustration of the Scandinavian artist Carl Larsson, (1855 – 1919). The colours, pale and thin, do their best to reflect the northern light with delicacy and an almost-ethereal balance. The whole idea is derivative from a neo-classical rendering of Louis XIV, by King Gustav of Sweden (1771 – 92), with some English, Dutch and German influences. Painted panels on walls are featured, as is the use of light blues and greens. Most Gustavian rooms feature a fireplace or grandly-ornamented heating-stove. (See more at artnet.com.)

Parts of Seldon's library-room were exquisite, especially the high (almost 10 feet) bookcases, used mostly for books and partly for objets d'art. A variety of layerings and textures were explored on the walls and through furniture and floor treatments, the latter being plain planking partially covered with area rugs just nipped under furniture. I still have no affection for 'wormy wood', which seems to be a featured favourite in many design houses and in many circumstances.

We followed this visit with ones to several other booths. The dominant theme, which infused the entire gallery, was the 'safe haven', the Retreat, the cocooning of the boomers and the echo generation at home away from the big, bad, dangerous world. (I am not particularly in favour of this trend, believing that the world is a far more interesting place when experienced with all senses, not just vicariously through writing or photography, or, worst, on the idiot box.) Live life with all your guts, say I. However, the design formulae are carefully put together, with appliances often reflecting the Art Deco or Machine ages (both of which please my eye). Gaggia's designs for their coffee machines are archetypical of this style, and the company has gone all-out for the show and the coming season. Their DC-3 derivative cafeteria (coffee machine) is an optical frou-frou which works in every way!

Another aspect explored was the 'SOS' (small office space), and the results mixed the exciting and banal. (I have to admit to being a hi-tech junkie, and the more gadgetry and fancy-schmancy doo-dads available in a space which still looked spare, the more I liked it.) The best contraption I saw was a combination white-board and interactive projection screen (only about $5000 !!). The school definitely needs one. Or two. The most pedestrian were a collection of IKEA-style knock-off desks which belonged past the checkout at Loblaws.

So where does this leave me after the day? Feeling energized, intellectually refreshed, with sore feet and sated eyes. I have a couple of new ideas I shall try to follow up on in my own workspace(s), the first being get rid of the monitor on my desk and get a flat-screen and hang the thing on the wall. The second is to clean all the rubbish off my desk. (My surfaces seem to ooze paper, books, electrical cords, defective pens and gewgaws onto themselves whilst I'm asleep. I'm sure I don't put all that stuff there! Either that, or there's just too much gravity where I work, and the world's oddities come to rest where I try to engage my head.)

And I think I'll consider a different colour of paint; perhaps an entire change of wall-treatment, in my office at home.

m aller-stead

(thanks are due to gail aller-stead for research, and inspiring my attendance at the show at all!)


Students please note that this entry introduces itself, gives a reason, describes the occasion, comments on it, gives background and describes the results. Commentary is embedded in the description, and a salient quote from the show is applied. A hyperlink will move you to an entry about Gustavian style. The corpus of the text includes the results of some basic research on the topic. As you design your ARTSweek, note that this sort of writing will be required daily.


You may contact me directly at martin@aller-stead.com