Handcrafted Modern
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‘Handcrafted Modern': Inside legendary designers’ own homes

Handcrafted Modern
By David A. Keeps For the new book “Handcrafted Modern,” Leslie Williamson used only natural lighting to photograph the homes of George Nakashima, Albert Frey, Vladimir Kagan, J.B. Blunk and other giants of post-World War II modernism. We asked Williamson to tell the stories behind pictures. Shown here: the Valley Forge, Penn., home of Wharton Esherick (1887-1970). The spiral staircase was exhibited at the 1939 World’s Fair. “It was a little challenging going up and down the staircase with my tripod and camera,” Williamson says. “At one point I even had my tripod on the stairs. That was precarious.” (Leslie Williamson)
Handcrafted Modern
Pictured here: the home of Charles and Ray Eames in Pacific Palisades. “This is the living room,” Williamson says. “I like the way they basically had a room within a room. This is the little secluded part of the living room to the right of the main living room, which is surrounded by windows.”

The house, maintained today by the Eames Foundation, is rich with decorative textiles and objects that the Eameses bought on their world travels. “The thing about the Eames House that I fell in love with was the complete democracy in their collections,” Williamson says. “The way the Eameses’ possessions are grouped together is completely engrossing. I would love to live in the Eames House but be able to go to [woodworker] J.B. Blunk’s house in Inverness, California, to get away from it all.” (Leslie Williamson)
Handcrafted Modern
J.B. Blunk’s house, Williamson writes, is essentially a modernist cabin. “The shape of the structure is simple and linear but the materials are raw and rustic.”

Like many of the homes that Williamson photographed, the Blunk residence had a modest kitchen. The stools by Blunk (1926-2002) reflect the simplicity of design from Japan, where he studied pottery. The house was built from 1959 to 1963 out of beach wood and reclaimed doors and windows. Writes Williamson: “The sum of these salvaged and found parts is one of the most serene and calming places in which I have spent time.” (Leslie Williamson)
Handcrafted Modern
The Reception House was the last project that architect and woodworker George Nakashima (1905-90) designed on his 15-building compound in New Hope, Penn. “He referred to this structure as his swan song,” Williamson writes. “Completed in 1977, it contains a living-dining room as its heart.” (Leslie Williamson)
Handcrafted Modern
The architect Albert Frey’s (1903-98) Palm Springs home seems to grow out of the boulder landscape of the desert. In the living room, shown here, an illuminated world globe serves as a pendant lamp. “All the furniture is built-in except four chairs that sat at the table, which is a few steps up from the living room,” Williamson says. “The home is one big room. Beyond the couch on the other side of the rock is the bed. The thing I love about this house is how incredibly well thought-out it is. I love that he places his bed so that when he woke up, he looked out on the Palm Springs valley floor. It must have been a wonderful place to wake up everyday.” (Leslie Williamson)
Handcrafted Modern
“There is a certain meticulousness and perfectness to most popular architectural photography that I just am not into,” Williamson says. “So I don’t do that. Everything is a portrait to me.” Here the author of “Handcrafted Modern” captures the Garrison, N.Y., living room of Russel Wright (1904-76), the industrial designer who wrote the 1950 modernist manifesto “Guide to Easier Living.” The house is known for its use of natural materials: A cedar trunk provides structural support in the living room, which has an indoor-outdoor floor made from stone found on the property. (Leslie Williamson)
Handcrafted Modern
“I found after I shot their houses, I really wanted one small piece from each of them -- easier said than done in some cases,” Williamson says. She got lucky photographing the home and studio of Eva Zeisel, who is 104 years old and living in Rockland County, N.Y. “I have some candlesticks that she signed for me.” (Leslie Williamson)
Handcrafted Modern
In the dining room of a bungalow he remodeled about a decade ago in New Canaan, Conn., Danish furniture designer Jens Risom, 94, customized this bar. “There are a series of his honey-colored cabinets and each is outfitted for whatever he wanted,” Williamson says. “One is the coat closet, another houses the stereo system/TV. I especially love this bar because it just seemed wonderfully thorough. I don’t really need a bar but after I saw Jens’, I kind of wanted one.” (Leslie Williamson)
Handcrafted Modern
John Kapel, the 88-year-old designer who worked for Midcentury Modern furniture manufacturer Brown Saltman and Glenn, lives in the Northern California city of Woodside. Williamson describes the home as “a testament to his master craftsmanship and attention to detail.”

During the five years the photographer spent completing the book, Williamson says she developed an affinity for work spaces in the home. “I truly love to see people’s offices and especially people’s desks.” Pictured here: Kapel’s designs for a high-backed, three-legged chair and a double pedestal desk with distinctive knobs in his redwood-ceilinged living room. “John Kapel gave me a bronze drawer pull that I just hang on my wall because it is so lovely,” Williamson says. “Even Kapel’s wood scraps are beautiful.” (Leslie Williamson)
Handcrafted Modern
In his 10-room Park Avenue apartment in New York City, modern furniture designer Vladimir Kagan, 83, took tiling to new heights. Kagan told Williamson that it flowed out of his use of mosaics as decorative accents on his furniture. In the master bathroom, he even added a geometric pattern in the style of painter Josef Albers to the door. “When I closed it,” Williamson says, “I could feel the weight of all that tile.” (Leslie Williamson)
Handcrafted Modern
As a designer known for swooping biomorphic shapes in bold colors, Kagan works in a home office that has a lush Old World flair. The paneled library has a streamlined sofa and side chair and mosaic table. On the walls, an oil painting hangs in front of an Oriental carpet. Dangling from the painting’s frame is a ship in a bottle. (Leslie Williamson)
Handcrafted Modern
At the homes she photographed, Williamson created a self-portrait. That’s her in the home of Southern California legend Ray Kappe.

More books: “Mary McDonald Interiors”
Bungalows of Venice, California (Leslie Williamson)
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