Monday, November 30, 2009

Experiencing a Legendary Space

The classic shot of the Firehouse with vintage engine.
The main room on the ground floor upon walking in the front door. This shot taken from the Sotheby's web site.
Back on November the 12th I attended a program by the ICA (Institute of Classical Architecture) at the former home of the late great decorator John Dickinson. Mr. Dickinson has always been an icon of mine, and this was an opportunity I wouldn’t pass up. The location was the now famous “Firehouse” (a former firehouse from 1893 transformed into a residence) that was owned by the now legendary San Francisco designer. Mr. Dickinson is probably best known for his lively furniture that featured animal legs which are now highly prized, as well as his astute use of materials.
John Dickinson's most famous furniture piece, the three legged plaster stool. This image taken from the Antiques & Art Exchange web site.
An animal skin rug in an upstairs bedroom next to a three legged table.

The Firehouse is currently owned by Mr. John Traina who is somewhat of a local luminary, and the property is currently on the market through Sotheby’s. Mr. Traina’s extensive collections of art, curiosities and over–the-top furniture seem to pay homage to the roots of the Firehouse’s design-rich past.

The walls containing the spiral staircase had art hung so that you were always looking at something on your way up or down.
The grand Mahogany bookcase in the main room of the upper floor that used to be the fireman's dormitory.

The main room of the upper floor with the wonderful chromed fireplace from when John Dickinson was in residence.

After a wonderful social hour where attendees were encouraged to explore around the public spaces, there was a brief and intimate talk given by Diane Dorrans Saeks of the Style Saloniste. Diane was a close friend of Mr. Dickinson and has written intimately about him, some of which can be read here. Diane spoke of Mr. Dickinson’s ethos of design and how his style related to that of his local contemporaries, namely the late great Michael Taylor.

The crowd at the event prior to the talk by Diane Dorrans Saeks.

What is most interesting is that Ms. Saeks also went on to talk about how she has attempted to have a book published on the subject of Mr. Dickinson. The subject of the book is how she originally came to know him and would visit him on Sundays as they shared their passion for design. One of the first responses from a publisher Diane received was “We wouldn’t do a book on a dead decorator”. This was several years ago, and I think the attitude has clearly changed in this regard. I for one revel in the idea of reading more intimately about a design great, but the future will tell if it was meant to be.

An office off the main room which housed a wonderful reproduction William Switzer desk, and was painted the most beautiful red.

It was a treat to get to see this legendary space first hand and connect to one of the origins of San Francisco’s interior design heritage.

You can visit the Sotheby’s web site specific to the property here.

David Hansen

Monday, November 23, 2009

We Give Thanks Indeed!

Considering that Thanksgiving is this week (how did that happen?) We realize that this year we have a lot to be thankful for. Thankful for family, friends, our health, and all those beautiful things we get to see throughout the year. These are the same things we are always thankful for, but this holiday allows us to express these feelings outwardly, and with a full heart.

An early version of the beloved tradition of the Thanksgiving feast.

To the two of us the holidays are always about good food. Old traditional dishes made for generations and new dishes that are yet untested make up the landscape of our holiday celebrations.

Here are our two takes on the ultimate culinary holiday:

The inspiration for this year's Thanksgiving.


“Food is not a metaphor for life, it is life, and eating is an art, and often the place and time help make a food what it becomes, even more than the food itself.”

MFK Fisher's "Consider The Oyster".

Many of you may be familiar with the great food writer M.F.K. Fisher, and I am always quick to recall her book Consider the Oyster when the holidays are upon us; more specifically, as I am directed to prepare the great side dish of scalloped oysters for my father at the royal meal. Ms. Fisher’s book is filled with descriptions and recipes of “everything oyster”.

The incomperable James Beard.

However, that being said, this year I’m going to venture into the unknown and take a stab at James Beard’s version of same in his book American Cookery. And as I prepare his recipe for scalloped oysters, I will remember those mornings back in the late 1970’s when, right out of college and on my way to work, I would spot him taking his “morning constitutional” down California Street in San Francisco.

James Beard's American Cookery Cookbook.

James Beard’s Scalloped Oysters

1 stick (1/2 c) butter
1-1 ½ c freshly rolled cracker crumbs
1 ½ pints oysters
Salt and fresh ground pepper

Butter a 1-½ quart baking dish and cover with a layer of cracker crumbs. Add a layer of half the oysters and another of cracker crumbs. Dot with butter and add seasonings. Make another layer of oysters and another layer of cracker crumbs. Dot again with butter and add seasonings. Pour the liquids over the top. Finally sprinkle with buttered breadcrumbs. Bake 25 min at 400 degrees.

Barbara Ashfield


Even though I don’t like the term, I do consider myself a “Foodie” (I actually prefer the term “Gourmand” but it sounds a bit haughty). I get excited by the likes of truffles from the ground, lardo and local artisanal cheeses. We are fortunate to live in the San Francisco Bay area, as some would call it a “Gourmand’s heaven”! If there is amazing food to be had, we can find it here!

When a traditional turkey is not a traditional turkey.

Because Thanksgiving has become, in my opinion a giant cliché with regard to food, I prefer to make variations on traditional dishes rather than having staunch tradition dictate my offering.

The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichel.

This year I have committed to making stuffing. I did my usual perusal of and found a wonderful recipe for Cornbread and Chorizo stuffing. This was the perfect choice because it’s still stuffing, but not the same old same old. This particular recipe came from Gourmet Magazine (May they Rest In Peace)…Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!

A twist on tradition. Cornbread and Chorizo stuffing.

Corn-Bread and Chorizo Stuffing
From Gourmet Magazine 2008 by Lillian Chou

Skillet Corn Bread
1/4 pound Spanish chorizo (cured spiced pork sausage), casing removed and sausage chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped (3 cups)
4 celery ribs, coarsely chopped (3 cups)
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350°F with racks in upper and lower thirds of oven. Butter a 3-quart shallow baking dish.
Crumble corn bread into 1/2-inch pieces, spreading out in 1 layer in 2 large 4-sided sheet pans. Bake, stirring occasionally, until dry, about 20 minutes. Cool completely and transfer to a large bowl.
Meanwhile, cook chorizo in oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 1 to 2 minutes. Add onions, celery, garlic, oregano, and 1 1/4 teaspoon salt and sauté until vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Add to corn bread.
Whisk together broth and egg, then pour over stuffing and toss well. Transfer to baking dish and cover tightly with buttered foil. Bake in upper third of oven 1 hour. Remove foil and bake until top is golden, about 15 minutes more.

David Hansen

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Local Treasure Part 3: What's a Designer To Do?

The season for a flurry of wonderful events, exhibitions and generally colorful activities has arrived here in San Francisco. It’s difficult to do it all, but we’re going to have a go at it. Borrowing an idea from Heather at Habitually Chic, we thought we would devote a post to some local happenings that will be upon us shortly. We hope all you locals will join us, and for those of you who can’t, we will report back on a few of the festivities here in our little corner of the blogosphere. Enjoy!

Through November 29, 2009
Richard Avedon
Photographs 1946 - 2004

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street (between Mission & Howard)

November 15, 2009
Holiday Tea
A yearly tradition

Allied Arts Guild
Café Primavera
75 Arbor Road Menlo Park, California
Allied Arts Guild

Through Sunday November 20, 2009 (Saturdays & Sundays only)
Icons of Design
A high-rise designer showcase featuring legendary local designers

Millennium Tower
301 Mission Street (complimentary valet parking)
Icons Of Design

Through Tuesday November 17, 2009
The Art of the Table
A preview for Dining by Design
Table settings and vignettes executed by four local designers
135 Post Street
Gump’s Store

Wednesday November 18, 2009
6:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Dining by Design San Francisco
Table Hop & Taste
Preview designer table environments while enjoying wine and bites from local restaurants. A Silent Auction and live DJ are part of this amazing event.
Proceeds benefit the Positive Health Program at UCSF.
Design Center Galleria 101 Henry Adams San Francisco
San Francisco DIFFA

Thursday November 19, 2009
6:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Dining by Design San Francisco
Gala Dinner
Dine in unique designer table environments for a worthy cause.
Proceeds benefit the Positive Health Program at UCSF.
Design Center Galleria 101 Henry Adams San Francisco
San Francisco DIFFA

Friday November 20, 2009 (Exhibit through December 22, 2009)
6:00pm – 8:00pm
Joe Rees “Transformer”
Opening reception
Steven Wolf Fine Arts
49 Geary Streets, Suite 411
Steven Wolf Fine Arts

Through December 11, 2009
INSIGHTS: 20 Years of Creative Vision
Annual juried exhibition of artists who are blind or visually impaired
Presented by the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery
San Francisco City Hall
Van Ness Avenue between Grove and McAllister Streets
San Francisco Arts Commission

December 19, 2009 through April 18, 2010
Cartier in America
Celebrating the imagination and creativity of Cartier in the 20th century
Legion Of Honor Museum
Lincoln Park34th Avenue & Clement Street
Fine Art Museums of San Francisco

Through March 28, 2010
Tutankhamen & the Golden Age of the Pharaohs
DeYoung Museum Golden Gate Park
DeYoung Museum

Barbara Ashfield & David Hansen

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An Unlikely Obsession

When the long awaited documentary Herb and Dorothy by Megumi Sasaki was playing earlier this year I was determined to go see it. The trailer fascinated me beyond words and I knew it was my kind of film. It played locally at the Roxie in San Francisco, but as it turned out I missed it during its two week run. Imagine my surprise when Tivo had automatically recorded it, on Public Television of all places (a show called Independent Lens). Yes I think Tivo finally understands who I am! I watched it last weekend and it certainly exceeded my expectations.

Herb and Dorothy Vogel looking at an inscription of their names engraved on a wall panel at the entrance to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The documentary is about the now legendary art collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel. Herb and Dorothy are a seemingly unremarkable husband and wife living in Manhattan who managed to accumulate over two thousand significant pieces of contemporary art since the 1960s (since the 1990’s the collection has ultimately grown to over four thousand pieces) solely on the couple’s humble salaries as civil servants (he a postal worker and she a public librarian). Their initial fascination with art began with wanting to both be artists, “wanabee artists” Dorothy is quoted as saying. When they were first married they took classes in drawing and painting, which mildly satisfied their itch for art. Upon further examination they realized they enjoyed studying other people’s work more than producing their own. Their fascination turned to what can only be called obsession with discovering new artists, viewing work and buying it before it was generally known to the art world. As the film illustrates they filled every spare inch of their modest apartment with art. Paintings, drawings and sculpture, there was nothing that eluded them.

The official poster for the Herb & Dorothy documentary by Megumi Sasaki.

What is most interesting to me is the method they used to collect the art. These were not professionally trained people, but spurred on primarily by Herb’s knowledge of art became interested in the artist’s process and ultimately bought pieces that spoke to that process. The couple became close with some of the biggest names in the New York art world including Chuck Close, Sol Lewitt and Richard Tuttle. This gave the couple more insight into the artist’s process and informed their collection even further.

Herb Vogel examining a sculpture that he and his wife Dorothy donated to the National Gallery.

Perplexed by what would ultimately happen to the collection, Herb and Dorothy donated it in it’s entirety to the National Gallery in 1991. It is at this point in the film where you really grasp how vast their collection had become. This certainly did not signal them stopping to collect art, on the contrary it accelerated it.

Herb and Dorothy standing at "The Gates" by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in New York City.

Although the type of art they collected (minimalist and conceptual) isn’t for everyone, if you consider yourself a fan of contemporary art this documentary is for you. It is still playing art houses in selected cities in the U.S. through the beginning of next year, but according to the film is scheduled to be released on DVD next month. I will warn you, that this documentary may make you want to go out and buy some art!

David Hansen

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Windmills of my Mind, The second in a series on Vernacular Architecture

A beautiful row of Windmills at sunset.
Continuing the thread on vernacular architecture, …and using the Dutch Windmill as a primary example to draw from, the Windmill seems to have played a long and significant part in the life of the Dutch people. These bastions of power have been used in Europe since the Middle Ages and were developed from the 12th century, apparently from technology gained by Crusaders who came into contact with Windmills in the Middle East.

A drawing of Windmills by Van Gogh.
The consumate image of Holland, a Windmill and tulips.
Europe was once awash with Windmills, mainly in Holland, but Europe and the UK too, but it is only in Holland that so many can be seen in so small an area. However, as steam power developed, unreliable wind power was largely abandoned and many were simply left to decay. Built to use wind energy to grind corn, remove excess water from the low-lying districts and to saw timber, these structures were constructed of native brick or thatched with reed, thus using local materials to fill the local industry.

Chesterton Windmill, Warwickshire England.
Everyone loves a Windmill, yes? These elegant sailed towers have been romanticized and immortalized over the years through various mediums - be it oil on canvas, the written word, or the melody. What instantly comes to mind is Hans Christian Andersen’s Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the 70’s pop song Windmills of my Mind, or the much more fabulous remix by Sting as performed in the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair with Pierce Brosnan and Renee Russo.

A production of Balanchine's Don Quixote in Canada 2006.

My fondness for all things Dutch goes back to my childhood. When traveling with my family at the tender age of five, I remember stopping dead in my tracks as I spotted my first Windmill just outside of Amsterdam in the small village of Haarlem. We had traveled there to meet Anne Marie, our Dutch Au Pair, who would be traveling with us for the next several weeks. She had a wonderful black puppy too, although to my dismay that was not part of the deal. Haarlem was also my first introduction to tulips; hand carved wooden clogs (that I still have), and my very own international doll donning the traditional Dutch costume. I’ve always loved the hat!

The famous old Windmill at Haarlem, The Netherlands.
Hand-carved wooden clogs, just like mine.
Truth be told, as a designer of interiors, I am more interested in the guts of these examples of architectural wonder. Unable to find acceptable examples of period rooms in print media, I am forced to visualize Axel Vervoordt’s clean style and the earthy paint colors of Farrow & Ball …how about you? Knowing that the standard “windmill plan” includes a tower that is round at the base (thus giving the house a circular entrance hall) my mind is spinning with ideas. The next 2 floors are rectangular with stairs connecting each and I am awestruck with the challenge of creating, if only in my minds’ eye, an interior steeped in history but akin to a modern lifestyle. Now that project would be a worthy challenge.
A moody photograph of a Windmill interior gleaned from Flickr.
I am somewhat tempted to visit a Windmill myself, as they are now available to rent in many countries throughout the world. That concept may be just too delicious to pass up.

Barbara Ashfield