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Indignity Vol. 3, No. 180
REAL ESTATE DEP'T.
Save George Lois' Dowdy Kitchen!
DESIGN IS MUCH nicer, conceptually, than decor, isn't it? Or sneakier. One spends money on furnishings and fixtures for one's home—to decorate it, superficially, in some fashion of the moment? Or to invest in design? A designer (not the frocks-and-handbags kind of designer, that's why they put the word "fashion" in front of those) is something like an engineer, perhaps even genuinely an engineer, who has set out to solve a problem. That's what you are buying: a solution, something enduring, something ultimately practical.
When I was born, mid-century decor had been around for a quarter-century or so and people were starting to move it into their basements, because they were tired of it. By the time I was old enough to buy furniture, another quarter-century had passed and those unfashionable things had come back upstairs as mid-century design. There are some limits to what the eye can be trained and re-trained to accept—no matter who tries to tell me a molded fiberglass Eames chair is a 21st century luxury product, the one in my mind will always have dried chewing gum stuck to the bottom—but not many. What used to be an outdated vision of the future now looks like eternity, timeless and ideal.
Right now, if you have $6 million handy and you know how to get past a co-op board, you could inhabit that timelessness for the rest of your days, in Greenwich Village. The home of the late George Lois, master of the conjoined-twin fields of magazine cover composition and advertising, is on the market. It looks great! By the photos and descriptions, the designer's digs are designed in that most persuasive sense of the term: as a neat, complete device for living in.
The apartment is really two apartments, a pair of mirror-symmetrical two-bedrooms merged into a 3,000-ish square-foot four-bedroom with a 48-foot-wide living room and 16 closets. It takes up the third floor of the Butterfield House building on 12th Street. The New York Times described the effect that Lois and his wife, the painter Rosemary Lewandowski-Lois, achieved by essentially seizing a point in history—buying new in a cutting-edge 1962 building—and faithfully sticking with it:
The whole apartment still exudes a ’60s vibe, with its midcentury modern furnishings from the likes of Le Corbusier, Carlo Mollino and Josef Hoffmann, along with an eclectic art collection that included pieces from Africa, primitive masks and many of Ms. Lois’s paintings...
“Everything was humanistic, well designed and functional,” Luke Lois, the Loises’ son, said of his parents’ décor, as well as just about everything in the apartment.
It is luxurious, as a $6 million dwelling ought to be, but with the air of practicality that has kept mid-century modernism alive at its ever-ascending price points (according to the Times, the units cost about $28,000 apiece in 1962, which would be about $574,000 for the combined apartment in 2023 dollars). It lands, for me personally, right at the outer limit of imaginable indulgence: Unlike one of those the alien high-end apartments that even billionaires apparently can't figure out what to do with, I could picture living my own life in there, only with more space.
If the buyer truly believes in the lasting power of design, however, the former Lois residence poses one bold challenge: the kitchen, described in a Times caption as "updated about 25 years ago." It is not a mid-century kitchen—Bright colors! Medium-dark wood! Smooth tile! Formica!—but an emphatically turn-of-this-century one. It features white enamel cabinets with no pulls, speckly green granite counters with a speckly green granite backsplash, and chunky floor tiles that look like terracotta. It is dated.
Yet! It is also fine, as a kitchen. The backsplash and counter are not this season's preferred color of stone products, or last season’s, or several seasons' before that, but they look fantastically easy to wipe down. Those green granite slabs have existed in one shape or another since the Precambrian Era, and from a design—rather than decor—point of view, they ought to be able to stay around doing what they do as long as Butterfield House itself is still standing. The cabinets are simplicity itself. The floor...scrubbing the wide-spaced grout would not be my favorite household chore, but it would be OK. A person could cook in a kitchen like that for decades.
Why change it? It is a functional space. It belongs to an era. Authentic mid-century kitchens, cute as they were, were installed before Americans really learned how to cook. Once people did learn, they got turn-of-the-century kitchens. Now they keep swapping out the kitchens for even newer ones, giving factory workers silicosis in the name of replacing one perfectly durable product with another perfectly durable product that looks a bit different.
If someone were to tear out George Lois' kitchen and rebuild it with today's most ostensibly functional state-of-the-art kitchen design, the results would look every bit as unfashionable in 10 or 15 years as the existing kitchen does today. Left alone, by then, the green granite could be coming back around in style.
New York City, November 14, 2023
★★★★ Golden branches pointed down the block like streamers in the wind. A big leaf, racing along, ducked under the grille of a parked Honda. The clouds out front were fleecy and gloriously conventional. The little red-leafed tree on the top of the apartment tower to the east bobbed the remaining foliage in its crown and brandished the surviving clumps at the ends of two branches like boxing gloves. The fig plant, in from the balcony but sitting in the window draft, turned a little yellower than before.
SANDWICH RECIPES DEP’T.
WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS for the assembly of select sandwiches from Light Entertaining: A Book of Dainty Recipes for Special Occasions, edited by Helena Judson, Published in 1910. This book is in the Public Domain and available at archive.org for the delectation of all.
Boston brown bread may be used. Cut the meat of one cold, boiled lobster into dice. One hour before using, dust with salt, red pepper, and either lemon juice or tarragon vinegar. Near serving time put a goodly layer of the lobster over one piece of bread, cover with another, press the two together, cut in triangles and serve.
LAMB OR MUTTON SANDWICHES
Put through a meat grinder cold boiled mutton or roast lamb. Add a few chopped capers or olives, whichever are preferred, and reduce to a paste with a little salad dressing. If the flavor of mint is liked, the filling may be seasoned with a little mint sauce, or bruised mint leaves.
Mix the contents of one can of salmon with a mayonnaise dressing, about one-half cupful being sufficient for the small-sized cans. In removing the fish from the can take out as little oil as possible. Mince the fish fine, bones and all, the bones being chalky in their preserved state. Add the dressing, mixing well. Remove the soft inside crumbs from a number of French rolls and fill the space thus made with the fish mixture.
Drain the oil from sardines and throw the fish into hot water. In a few minutes they will be free from all grease. Dry in a cloth and remove the skins; pound the sardines till reduced to paste; season with pepper and salt and add some tiny pieces of lettuce leaves; spread between thin, buttered slices of bread. Or, chop the sardines fine, squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over them and spread in the usual way.
If you decide to prepare and attempt to enjoy a sandwich inspired by this offering, be sure to send a picture to firstname.lastname@example.org.
ATTENTION, BOOK SHOPPERS! We are pleased to announce that we have SOLD OUT the first printing of 19 FOLKTALES. A second printing, which corrects the unorthodox (collectible!) spine alignment of the first edition, is underway, but new orders may be delayed even more than they are under our usual hand-fulfillment system. Some signed copies are available as premiums for Kickstarter supporters of the new FLAMING HYDRA publishing enterprise, which we encourage you to support as it has successfully satisfied its initial kick-starting and is now well into a “stretch drive.”
Totally not sold-out: HMM WEEKLY MINI-ZINE, Subject: GAME SHOW, Joe MacLeod’s account of his Total Experience of a Journey Into Television, expanded from the original published account found here at Hmm Daily. The special MINI ZINE features other viewpoints related to an appearance on, at, and inside the teevee game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, available for purchase at SHOPULA.
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