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Left, Park Avenue Residence. by Frank di Biasi and Gene Meyer; Right, Trixie Motel, Palm Springs, designed by Dani Dazey

Dear DNA friends,

Are you minimal or maximal?

Move in certain design circles and you’d get the impression that white on white is the only color palette and that ornament is still a crime

Not in Simon Doonan’s world. The brilliant window decorator turned Barney’s Creative Director turned writer and eminence on all things style-related has just released a new book, Maximalism: Bold, Bedazzled, Gold, and Tasseled Interiors, celebrating OTT spaces by the likes of Kelly Wearstler, varied decorators of global grand homes and hostelries (like the Trixie Motel in Palm Springs by Dani Dazey, above left, in the spread from the Phaidon book). Also shown: interiors by Doonan’s own partner in life, the designer Jonathan Adler. It’s a kick to get a glimpse into their Manhattan home (image below).

Not only are the spaces a joy to behold but Simon's introduction is worth the price of the book. In it, he takes a dash through the history of luxe (the Romans were far more maximalist than the purist Greeks), with laugh-out-loud observations on low periods for embellishment, such as…

“The Dark Ages, let’s be honest, was a less than fascinating time for decor of any description. It’s not surprising that no shelter magazines survive from this period…the harried population was too focused on basic needs like gathering firewood…and trying not to be pillaged by tall, blonde Vikings to bother reading about whether the pillows should be chopped or plumped.”

In a chat with Simon, he pointed out that maximalism has a long connection to Los Angeles. He opens with a paeon to the late great Angeleno designer Tony Duquette, who “created trippy high–voltage sets and interiors, combining opium–den glamor with his own unique brand of upcycling.” Excess is present in “everything from Busby Berkeley to Tiny Naylor's coffee shop” to today's beyond-maximal shows by Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Harry Styles.

Conversely, denizens of Silicon Valley, Succession, and Wall Street send a strange message of false austerity. “One of the most hilarious things is when somebody becomes so wealthy and hedge fundy (sic) that the only way they can find pleasure is to build a concrete bunker on a Swedish Island, and go and hide in it,” says Doonan. “When people initially make a bit of dough, they buy some clothes, get dressed up. But then super, super-elite, wealthy people often just wear gray T-shirts.”

One of the architects who gets a shout-out in the book is Frank Gehry, for his brand of “rules-out-the-window” postmodernism in the 1980s. When I interviewed Gehry a few years back he too offered up a withering diss about too much paring back. “Minimalism is a dead end,” he said.

Perhaps I’m showing my colors here because my own home is slathered in stuff (largely art by friends, posters, books, and records layered by a spouse who would like our apartment to resemble Jimi Hendrix’s 1960s London pad), leading me to ponder when maxi tips into messy.

But Doonan doesn’t judge. “I just think maximalism is more life affirming,” he says. “Minimalism relies on maximalism to have something to denounce, whereas Maximalism is much too big to fail.”

129-adlerJonathan Adler-designed bedroom in the New York apartment of Adler/Simon Doonan; Photo: Manolo Yllera

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Design Things To Do

Casual Banter, at Face Guts
Through October 7, Opening Reception: Saturday, September 30, 6–8:00 PM
If you follow architectural photography you’ll know the work of Joshua White. Always keen on contemporary art, now he’s put on a curatorial hat, and created Casual Banter, an exhibition of drawings on paper by artist Darius Airo, on show at artist Tim Biskup's Gallery-Workshop-Project Space in the Glendale area. A reception takes place this Saturday.

White has pulled from works by Airo over the last decade, predominantly in black and white, and “replete with visual and historical references… Surrealism, Symbolism, band T-shirts and posters, poetry (both sourced and the artist's own), Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and architecture... (and) grotesquerie, an essential element of the Chicago Imagists' representation of the figure, which strongly influences the artist's practice.”

Click here for details.

Simultaneously, you can see new paintings by Darius Airo, and the artist and Jim Mooijekind, at DENSE, a show running concurrently with Casual Banter. Co-presented by Central Server Works, Los Angeles and Marian Cramer Projects, Amsterdam. DENSE opens Friday night, September 29, at Central Server Works in Venice, California, with an opening from 6-8 PM.

Click here for details. Airo's drawings, photographed by Joshua White

102 Years of Nuestro Pueblo: The Watts Towers of Simon Rodia
Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival, Saturday, September 30, 10 AM to 4 PM 
Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival, Sunday, October 1, 10 AM to 4 PM
Peaking above the bungalows, housing estates, and train tracks of Watts is the astonishing Watts Towers. Simon Rodia labored for 33 years on Nuestro Pueblo (Our Town), using a hammer, chisel, pliers, and crowbar to build this Gaudi-esque, 100-feet high, structure out of steel girders, wire mesh, concrete, and found bits of broken glass, seashells and ceramic.

This weekend, The City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) celebrates the artwork’s 102nd birthday with the Annual Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival and the Annual Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival.
Expect multicultural dance and music performances, food, and educational programs for youth, centered on the Watts Towers Arts Center Campus.  

Click here for details.

Watts Towers, 9323, by FAWatts Towers, by Simon Rodia. Photo: Frances Anderton

Waste Not, Want Not
The Good Future Design Alliance (GFDA) takes on Design Waste
Wednesday, October 4, Multiple Locations 
One of the contradictions of maximalism, discussed at the start of this newsletter, is that it can be a form of conservation. As Simon Doonan writes about Tony Duquette, “In alchemist Tony’s hands, porcelain electrical conductors became important Al fresco sculptures,” writes Doonan. “Crap from studio back lots or the Los Angeles wrecking yards was transformed into delectable objet trouvés.” The same was true of Simon Rodia, builder of the Watts Towers, above. He found beauty and artistic potential in detritus he found in the streets. 

Hopefully today’s omnivorous design industry can take cues from this approach. So if you care about tossing less stuff, check out the day of events hosted by the new Los Angeles chapter of the Good Future Design Alliance (GFDA), a movement led by designers "committed to lowering waste in the built environment."

The day opens with a morning panel – “Deconstruction is the New Demolition: How and why to get in on the trend” – at CarbonShack Design Showroom in Cypress Park, followed by a visit to Casa Zero, a case study house by CarbonShack featuring, in their words, “not only an all-electric story, but a story of salvage, reuse, and bespoke designs inspired by and based on the microscopic natural world, underscoring our interdependence with the natural environment.”

Afternoon and evening events take place at Kravet Showroom and Fireside in West Hollywood. 

Click here for details and tickets.  

CarbonShack_Design_001_Casa_Zero_Front_Facade_2 croppedCarbonShack's Casa Zero house; photo courtesy CarbonShack

Under the Influence 002
Marina Otero and Liam Young in conversation, at the Hollyhock House
October 4, 6:00 PM
Under the Influence is a series of conversations hosted by the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design that "expands upon the concepts of Los Angeles modernism, the radical movement that rejected predetermined rules and embraced experimentation, striving for freedom of expression in all areas of culture.” 

The next outing takes place at none other than the Hollyhock House, Frank Lloyd Wright’s first Los Angeles commission and a precursor to California Modernism, now on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Taking the stage are two fascinating speakers: Marina Otero and Liam Young. Otero is head of the MA Social Design Masters at Design Academy Eindhoven and received Harvard’s Wheelwright Prize for a project on the future of data storage. Young, a faculty member at SCI-Arc, is a noted "world builder, visualizing the cities, spaces and props of our imaginary futures." The duo will present their work and pose each other questions, "highlighting the direct or indirect influence of the experimental approach that Los Angeles Modernism set in motion."

Click here for details. House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo: Joshua White

OCMA First Anniversary Week
Sunday, October 8 - Sunday, October 15
It feels like yesterday that the Orange County Museum of Art opened, and already it’s a year old. If you are a regular or have not yet visited the art museum in Costa Mesa designed by Thom Mayne and Brandon Welling of Morphosis Studio, make sure to head there during the week of Sunday, October 8 – Sunday, October 15.

That’s when the museum will present a week-long bonanza of live performances, art-making activities, artist films, meditative sound baths, and more, by way of celebration. Admission is free and open to all.  

While there, check out the exhibitions Tony Lewis: CASUAL T, Alice Neel: Feels Like Home, Yu Ji: A Guest, A Ghost, A Host, and the latest, Jennifer Guidi: And so it is.

Your pets can join the fun too, at Furry Friends Friday, on October 13, when people and pets can gather in front of the museum for “pet portraits, dog treats from Pup & Pop Bakeshop, and a special opportunity to meet and adopt rescued dogs from OC Animal Care and The Pet Adoption Center of Orange County.” The museum says they were inspired by their Neel exhibition, a survey of the twentieth-century figurative painter's depictions of her home, family, and animals.

Finally, at the Anniversary party on Saturday, October 14, KCRW DJ Valida will provide the tunes for the Big Night Out dance party! 

Click here for details.

OCMA-LowRes-Mike_Kelley-7The plaza and steps at the center of OCMA's sinewy building. Photo: Mike Kelley, courtesy Morphosis

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What I'm Digging


Men Thinking About Rome

There are some stories that grab your attention and won’t let go. For me, it was the revelation, now widely published, that many men think about Ancient Rome every single day. This is truly one of the odder factoids to emerge from the data gathering skills of TikTok. Apparently, they may be pondering the architecture, the construction of roads, or what the Roman Empire heralds about the decline of America. Maybe they look back fondly on its unapologetic patriarchy.

Or how about the maximalism (celebrated above and in Twinkle's home, below)? According to the great scribe Simon Doonan, “After watching young lads gored by wild boars and lions, the Romans retreated to their palatial cribs…adorned with flaming braziers, mosaics, murals, nifty water features, and reclining couches.”

On reflection, I realize I think about Rome a lot, maybe because the city I grew up in England (Bath) was founded by the conquering Romans. They called the spa town Aquae Sulis and gave it great plumbing. 

Addicted to Cool

If you read this newsletter regularly, you will know that I feel strongly about air-conditioning and the need for the more sensory and less energy-chugging form of climate control known as passive cooling, where possible. Well, now the longtime architecture critic at the Washington Post, Philip Kennicott, has written the first of two lengthy stories on air-conditioning. I hear the second will explore long-practiced passive cooling techniques. His first story, however, was positively depressing and fatalistic, but brilliant, establishing the global takeover by A/C. He posed a thought experiment about how we would be living if the technology had never been invented, writing, "There would be no skyscrapers in Atlanta, no high-rise apartment buildings in Dallas and Houston... The ranch house, with thin walls and low ceilings, laid out in relentless grids across the Sun Belt since the 1950s...wouldn’t define the vernacular architecture of America." Very provocative and interesting. 

NOTE: Kennicott might take heart from the news that the infamous Santa Barbara student housing with bedrooms with no windows has been shelved. This is good news for anyone who believes natural light and openable windows are essential to quality of life.

Five Places LA

Two of the naughtiest –– in a good way –– ladies in the LA art world are the critic and curator Shana Nys Dambrot, and the artist Laurie Lipton –– currently applying her pencil-drawing talents to a mighty 7ft x 20ft triptych entitled SMOKE. In this episode of Five Places LA, where Emmanuelle Bourlier interviews an Angeleno about the five places that define LA for them, the mic goes to Laurie who in turn interviews Shana (online from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico) about her five fave spots. They include Chateau Marmont (in the 80s and 90s) and the Self Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine in the Pacific Palisades. Fab choices.

That’s it for this newsletter. Thank you for reading. If you enjoy it, support it by donating to KCRW, whose Pledge Drive ends today. And thanks to those who already pledged!



PS. Subscribe to the newsletter here, get back issues here, and reach out to me on

Twinkle on sofa, IMG_2345 copy

Our cat Twinkle, reclining in a maximalist interior. Photo: Frances Anderton

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