Inspiring women: Charlotte Perriand

Certain names are synonymous with 20th Century design and architecture: Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright among them. Less well known is the name Charlotte Perriand, but she was admitted to their ranks in the 1920's, when she designed tubular-steel chairs with Le Corbusier.

I tend to rattle off these dates and names with little mindfulness to the time that has past. We're talking about nearly 100 years and yet these designs are still modern and, even now, it's easy to imagine how revolutionary such designs seemed to a public used to heavy and fussy furniture.

"That the design of their now-famous furniture was for many years attributed to Le Corbusier alone, that most of her architectural projects never made it past the drawing board, that her far-ranging commissions defied easy classification, that her most significant projects are either gone or off the beaten path: all this only contributed to the enigma" - Holly Brubach, NYT

Enigma? Perhaps not the word I would have chosen. We've seen this before: Eileen Gray, for example. However, in 2005, the Pompidou Centre held a retrospective of Perriand's work. It included her photography, much of which had not been seen before, and exposed how she used photographs as a kind of alternative to a sketchbook, finding inspiration in forms that she would later apply to her designs.

Perriand not only located beauty and ingenuity in the world around her but assimilated their examples when they were useful to her. - ibid.

Perriand's true genius - perhaps epitomized in the famous photograph of reclined in her chaise longue, was in perceiving the dialogue engineering could enjoy with natural environments and the people who inhabit them.

We could attribute this, perhaps to Perriand's rural background. She later reverted to designing more rustic, hand-carved pieces, in that way stretching the concept of Modernism and modernist spaces. She brought softness into the sometimes cold vision of the Modernists, making it less aloof, more livable, perhaps, or maybe simply reconciling and respecting the past while pushing forward to the future.

My favourite picture of her is the one above. She seems exultant.

Books & links:
Charlotte Perriand by Elisabeth Vedrenne
Charlotte Perriand: Photography: A Wide-Angle Eye by Jacques Barsac, Alfred Paquement, Gilles Chazal and Francois Cheval
Charlotte Perriand: Objects and Furniture Design by Sandra Dachs, Patricia De Muga and Laura Hintze
Pompidou exhibition
Design Museum

Image credits / sources:
1. Charlotte Perriand on the B306 Chaise Longue, 1928 Design: Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier, Edouard Jeanneret, via
2. Le Corbusier puts a plate behind the head of Charlotte Perriand to resemble a halo, 1928 by Pierre Jeanneret, via
3. Charlotte Perriand, 1930, via

Ice fishing huts by Richard Johnson

Laura introduced me to Richard Johnson's ice hut project a few months ago. For six years, as part of an ongoing project, Johnson has been photographing ice-fishing huts and ice villages across Canada.

It's intriguing to see regional and provincial architectural styles emerge across these shelters, degrees of pragmatism and whimsy in these temporary and portable lodgings.

As well as individual huts, Johnson has photographed ice villages in northern Quebec and Manitoba. These seasonal communities often include hockey rinks, restaurants and even hydro to power the villages.

All photographs by Richard Johnson. To purchase limited editions or his book, please visit his site.

P.S. Remember these pictures of Greenland?
And Shepherd's huts?

Sunday best: New dresses

No matter what I write next, the real gist of this post is that I love this dress. I'm on the cusp of buying it and a blog post is often my tipping point on these things, so here I am tipping myself.

Looking at clothes and seeing a perfect version of a potential you, a mere transaction away, is something I think we all do. In most cases it works itself out, reasoned into some kind of neutral space, where the dress is reduced from that absurd potential to a mere thing you might wear, occasionally or often. Then, if you still like it, you like it less for the idea and instead for simple things, like the material and cut that will flatter your figure.

But sometimes it stays in that hepped up space. Then the denial of it is as significant as the indulgence. Thinking it should be a reward or for some unachieved goal signifies a kind of undeserving state you're placing yourself inside of, where this dress would be too much to possess right now, its potential premature in the mundanity of your days.

Or maybe you buy it. And you fret over the two sizes you always seem between, until you commit to the bigger one to be on the safe side. Or the small one because you're feeling optimistic. And it wings its way to you, across the ocean or over land.

Perhaps you think then of the report you recently heard that Fedex and UPS will soon use unmanned aircraft to fly their packages. So you picture it up there in a drone, a vision of the future. And you imagine packages falling from the sky, landing on doorsteps and desks, and people becoming used to ducking and diving.

Until the dress arrives. Then you open it and hang it on the back of a wardrobe door where you admire it. You don't try it on yet; you just got into work and the stink of your commute might sully the silk. And there it hangs until one morning, you reach for it and try it on. 

The trying on can go two ways. In the good version means it finds itself a regular spot in your wardrobe rotation until it's no longer a dress you love, but one you trust. One day you'll notice a fray or pull, a small water stain on the silk. But you keep wearing it for long after that.

And there'll be other dresses and other seasons. More things to love, more things left unworn. And that potential you you imagined really does emerge on certain days, a shock to yourself. It has nothing to do with the dress, or with any dress, really. But then again it does.

Products: Cancer necklace from Brooke Gregson | Ellen dress from Toast | Liesl scarf pattern from Quince & Co. | Ophelia from James Heeley | Tolomeo Ring from Temple St Clair | Rachel Comey Oberon boots from Totokaelo | Classic Peggy bag from Mimi Berry


I grew up with winters like a wet dog sitting in your lap, grey and sodden and sinking into your bones. It's a grim feeling, all muck and wet wool, warm bodies squeezed into damp spaces.

When I moved to Canada, the first winter was a thing of wonder. I had never seen icicles hanging off buildings, though I had drawn them as a child on impossible houses. I found my body had reactions for handling the cold that I had never known. I reveled in those bright and brittle days.

We've had a cold snap this week. And I feel the pain of it - I can't seem to get moisture back into my skin and my lungs hurt when I step outside. I'm tired of wearing snowboots, of breathing through my scarf and walking on salt-stained sidewalks

But I still love winter on these clear cold days when it gets way, way below zero. And I like how we insulate ourselves and become so insulated. On the bus people stay hunkered down inside hats and hoods and mitts and coats. Conversation is muffled and eyes narrow to slits. Minds seem strained on finding the shortest distance between two points and speeding up the getting there.

And it's all I remember of my week, the wrapping up, the hunkering down, watching my own slow exhale and then watching others do the same thing. Yesterday evening a low moon hung over my bus stop, an ice-blue shard in the sky.

It will be full on Saturday.

Happy weekend.

A poem for Tuesday

I don't love today. But I love this poem. It's by William Carlos Williams.

years of anger following
hours that float idly down —
the blizzard
drifts its weight
deeper and deeper for three days
or sixty years, eh? Then
the sun! a clutter of
yellow and blue flakes —
Hairy looking trees stand out
in long alleys
over a wild solitude.
The man turns and there —
his solitary track stretched out
upon the world.

Three of a kind

Sunday best: Inside and out

The wind is whipping around my building as I write. There's no snow left in it, so it's just catapulting itself and seems ceaseless in this activity. And it's difficult to imagine where all this energy comes from and where it goes again.

Since I came home on Friday evening, I've been fussing around my apartment, rearranging bookshelves and the objects on most surfaces. My windows have been open whenever possible, even with the whipping wind. And I've been finding energy I didn't think I had.

I looked again at Jeffrey Bilhuber's book, The Way Home. It's one that always manages to inspire, mostly because every room sings of personality evolved over time rather than top-down self-conscious attempts at style. More wise than clever, more sublime than beautiful, these spaces feel like home, even if it's not always my kind of home.

"Crossing a threshold, passing through a portal, leaving what's outside to enter inside, engenders certain feelings and emotions in each of us that can vary according to the where, why, when, how, and with whom." - ibid.

I've been thinking too how I've never felt quite at one with my body, always retreating into my mind and feeling detached from my limbs (except perhaps when I'm in water). But that, at the same time, I bypass my physical self and see myself so well in my surroundings. And that my sense of thriving, or even of simply being, is rooted so much in my home.

I think some of this leapfrogging of identity is mirrored in how I dress too, how I gravitate towards a very plain wardrobe, with a few meaningful things secreted here and there on my dress (perfume and jewelry mostly). And when I'm out in the world, I don't feel complete, because it's the setting of my home that completes my sense of being fully dressed, or realized, or something.

We tend to look at all these things; mind, beauty, fashion, interiors separately... though we also know they relate and interweave. But I'm interested in how exactly they interweave, not just conceptually, but physically in our daily lives. And how much of what I wear is completed by the right space. How ugly spaces or waiting spaces or just the wrong spaces leave me feeling a little naked. And how all of this feeds my own internal sense of being and is the difference between energy and disquiet.

Products: The Way Home by Jeffrey Bilhuber | MiH Jeans Paris cropped mid-rise jeans from Net-a-Porter | Blouse from Equipment | Cathy Waterman Rustic Diamond Thorn Post Earrings from Twist Collective | Tom Pots from Frances Palmer | Rosa paperweight from John Derian | A.P.C. Bovin Strap & Buckle Booties from Shopbop

Photo from The Way Home by Jeffrey Bilhuber, photographed by William Abranowicz


2013 still feels new to me, like a rearranged room. The objects are all the same, but my notice feels different, charged with a new energy. I didn't write a resolutions post, or really formulate resolutions at all, because those things I hope to change and be better at and quit all feel pretty banal. But if there was one overriding idea it was not to conflate. Not to latch onto what happened yesterday as a precursor for today, whether yesterday was a good day or a bad one.

And, as is my wont, I bought myself a new piece of jewelry to keep this idea close. It's a necklace from Pyrrha. I think you know how I feel about talismans. How I love that blurry part where something takes on a quiet, but selfish, significance, where it's no longer seen as an object other people might also purchase, but something personal, part of one of those Venn diagrams I talked about earlier in the week.

I read this yesterday.
"Literature is often a compensatory activity; an elaborate form of wish-fulfillment... We all want to be loved, and writing is always a love letter of sorts." - Andrew Gallix
I don't think it's the whole story. But I think it's interesting. Not just for writing but other endeavours too and I wonder why we don't talk about this a lot more when we talk about the things we do.

I think one of the reasons I find it difficult to share certain work I do is that I hope it will make people love me but I know it won't. I think, oh if only you could see my words they would blow your heart wide open and you would see me properly. But I know that's horseshit really and so I don't put myself through it. Still, I think when I write, part of it is wanting to be seen. And that's also why being misunderstood is so heartbreaking, because it always happens at the precise moment when I'm really hoping somebody to fully get me.

But this way of thinking makes me feel like I'm being bratty too. It reminds me of this beloved Ted Hughes piece about our inner child that I think about again and again and is, itself, one of my talismans. And I struggle to have a continuous sense of myself as a being-in-the-world. I'm perpetually confused about which idea of myself is Right and wishing for greater constancy. Even though I know I'm as mutable as they come. And even though I think that idea of constancy is one of those conflations I've sworn off...

I also read this during the week (thanks to a tweet from the lovely Michael). 
"As Vladimir and Estragon wait for Godot they wait to know, they wait to be told what to do, what they are supposed to do, what they are supposed to know. In the meantime, they are loving. Estragon asks of Vladimir, Who am I to tell my private nightmares to if I can't tell them to you? And Vladimir says to Estragon, You're my only hope." - Stefany Anne Golberg


"When we say that love is ineffable, as Beckett knew, what we mean is that, when we love, we don’t know what the hell we are doing. We can’t stop talking through it, trying to figure it out. We think we ought to be talking about everything, doing everything, doing anything — breaking into spontaneous rage, talking about suicide, playing games, complaining about our boots — instead of just loving. We wait and wait and wait. Inevitably, boredom creeps in, terror creeps in. When you give yourself completely to another, as Vladimir and Estragon have done with each other, and you say, “Don’t leave me, you’re my only hope,” every day is a little more and a little less frightening, every day is a little more and a little less suicidal, every day is a little more and a little less." - ibid.

I hope 2013 continues to feel like a rearranged room. Happy weekend!


I can't remember the last time I was so inspired by a fashion collection to give it its own blog post. More often, it's the case that everything blurs into a swirling sameness. And I find it easy to forget that I actually like fashion, that I admire the craft that goes into making it; beyond the covetousness and conspicuous consumption tied up in the industry, the Pinteresters and all that jazz. But Biyan Wanaatmadja's designs make me forget all of that for a moment and I find myself, instead, lost in a fashion fairytale.

Angeli Sowani

Sometimes, I feel myself a collection little Venn diagrams; places and people and objects, even colours, intersecting in ways that seem so highly personalized that I start to feel possessive of them and when somebody says, me too, I mistrust that it could be in the same in them, for them.

And I wondered out loud last week what it would be like to see people's brains and see all their Venn diagrams, to see all their complex little associations and understand their reactions better for it. To know what they hear when they listen and what they feel when they feel. Because sometimes I look at people and can hardly fathom any of it.

I came across this series of artworks by Angeli Sowani, created with blowtorch, ink and gold leaf on canvas last week too. And I remembered I had started work on a story about Icarus. I pulled it out after looking at these and finished it, sent it off yesterday. I suppose it's telling that the part I love isn't when Icarus soars up before getting too close to the sun, but instead where I picture him as a winged creature underwater.

All artwork by Angeli Sowani. Click here see the rest of her Seraphim collection and more.


I love lists, and I hate them. I think they help give me structure and set my mind at rest, plus they can be a flight of fantasy. Lists of places I want to go, furniture I want to buy, lists of things missing in my wardrobe, lists of pantry essentials. Titillating stuff, and I'm not even being sarcastic.

But I also have fantasies about open concept spaces, without direction, structure, imperatives and, ultimately, guilt. A list-free existence (not to be confused with a listless one). However, committing to not making lists is like that part of the yoga class when the instructor tells me to clear my mind and I instantly start thinking about what I want for dinner. And so that might be an illusion anyway.

But today is about lists in a good way. It's a listy time of year, you see. Oscars and all that jazz I couldn't give a fig about. But, there are some more up my alley and here are a few I read this week:

- 3AM's list of awesome 2012 stuff
- Every week, Jessica's Read.Look.Think list, where I read some timely advice this week
- And The Millions 2013 Book Review list, which I have to inhibit at a certain level if I'm hoping to get any writing done
- Thoughts and links to beauty blogs
- And you know already I like inspiring women, so I like this (growing) list of awesome women from Maria Popova and Lisa Congdon

Happy clicking and happy weekend!

Inspiring women: Anna Atkins

One of the most beautiful search results page is the image one for "Anna Atkins". A wash of delicate botanicals silhouetted against various shades of blues seizes the eye of the beholder. And although images on computer screens are sometimes rendered anemic, there's something about this avalanche of variations on so beautiful a theme that makes a stronger impression.

Anna Atkins (16 March 1799 – 9 June 1871) was, some sources claim, the world's first female photographer and the first person ever to publish a photographically illustrated book.

Her mother died from the effects of childbirth and Anna grew up close to her father, A a respected scientist, he was secretary of the Royal Society and was associated with the British Museum. She received an unusual education for a woman of her time, and took up what she called "Sir John Herschel's beautiful process of cyanotype" as soon as it was invented in 1842.

Cyanotype is commonly called "sun-printing". The object being captured is laid on paper impregnated with ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide. When exposed to sunlight and then washed in plain water the uncovered areas of the paper turn a rich deep blue. The process was otherwise used mainly to reproduce architectural and engineering drawings (i.e. blueprints).

Atkins self-published British Algae (1843) with a limited number of copies, and with handwritten text. Today, copies are held at the British Library, the MET, the New York Public Library and the Royal Society.

Though beautiful and artfully arranged, Atkins' focus with botanical cyanotypes was scientific rather than aesthetic. However, she went on to collaborate with her childhood friend, Anne Dixon, creating more whimsical photograms of ferns, flowers, feathers and lace.

The British Library
The New York Public Library
Book: Sun Gardens: Victorian Photograms by Anna Atkins by Larry Schaaf and Hans Kraus Jr.

Images via Wikipedia

Of her own

“I should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.” - Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

Chromogenic prints: Virginia Mak's Of Her Own collection at Bau-Xi


Happy first Friday of 2013!

Although I didn't have much time off, the  normal rhythm of the weeks has been lost to me. I like these loose days without their structure of shoulds; that feeling when I get home from work, that there's no reason I ought to do anything, or do it in any particular order. And I wonder that often the days acquire a sameness of my own volition.

I booked a flight to the Rockies in April. It's been a long time since I was out there, but I'm excited to see the mountains again. I guess I'm deliberately doing little things to make 2013 feel different, because I want it to be different.

2012 was, a year of endings. I think there'll be more of that this year, but I hope to more of an agent in it. In 2012, there were times when I felt that I was being tossed about by powerful tides. 2013 already feels like a calmer sea for me to navigate.

I read this piece on nostalgia this week. Cancerians are considered by nature to be nostalgic. It's something I fight because it all seems like a lie to me. Whether we're romanticizing our own past, or another's, or places in the world, it all seems to rely on fudging certain truths about what our real experience was, why we left, or why things ended.

Still, it can be worth a second look at some things. I thought about moving back to Ireland in 2012. It didn't feel like nostalgia, rather an acknowledgement that I had changed and Dublin had changed and that connections exist that matter perhaps more to me now than it did when I left. But, sometimes, I find myself wanting to make wholesale changes because making small changes is more difficult. There is, I think, a bit of a reinvention fantasy in all of this.

I have resolutions for 2013, but they're more like commitments. The main one is to embrace small changes rather than big ones; to make decisions each day that will colour that day for the better. To allow mutability in all of this instead of fixed and rigid rhythms, and to be as much of an agent in these small decisions, as I've always been of big ones.

Have a great weekend!

We find our glow

With all its early optimism, January is a long and dark month. I crave turf hitting an open fire and sending up its sweet and musty sparks, the cast iron of an AGA radiating glow from its belly. The coal man, coming around the back of our house, an avalanche of sacks slung into the bunker, black dust rising. The smell of it tight in the shovel and scuttle, and the glowing brass a chiaroscuro. And the waft of a match struck and a wick lit, crackling a little, burnt off leaving beeswax and forgotten flowers hanging in the air.

We all take our glow where we find it. And there must be something to all this; that no matter how insulated and warmly-dressed we are, how much air thumps its way through our pipes and radiators, the sight of a flame brings a more certain sense of warmth and of safety. I find myself craving it most in January with its brittle air and salt-stained floors, its blue light and wall thin whispers.

Happy New Year!

1. Walnuts Farm | Sweater | Candles | Sconce | Wallpaper | Gerhard Richter candles series
2. Gerhard Richter candles series | Ring | Pyjama | Candle | Mirror | Saipua flowers