Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Design within limits

A few weeks ago we returned from the New York International Gift Fair (NYIGF). After getting a chance to think about our trip down to New York, I've realized something about our store - something that makes me appreciate it even more. When we opened back in 2008 we were most concerned about finding unique, well-designed products. With each season we've honed what it is we search for at the show. If you're a regular reader of our blog or visitor to our stores, you know that today we seek good design at a good price.

When we go down to the City we like to visit some of the big hallmark retailers - Bergdorf Goodman, Roche Bobois, etc. I came away this year with something I've understood for some time, but had never really been able to articulate - It's easy to do luxury, over-the-top retail. It's hard to do value retail, but it's also much more interesting and satisfying.

The image below is one of Bergdorf's Holiday windows. It's extravagant and luxurious. But it's easy when money is no object. Given the budget, many of us could create something as opulent. There's little challenge in that. Seeing this sort of thing year after year however, offers little excitement. It doesn't really impress me (and frankly, in these difficult times, I find some of it a bit offensive). This got me thinking of other areas where restrictions, rather than limiting, produce better results.

Chef and author, Anthony Bourdain, claims that the best chefs come from the  times when good quality food is hard to get, or from countries that can't afford the best meats or vegetables. Such chefs, he explains, are forced to be more creative. The must work with low quality food and turn it into high quality meals. That, he says, is the sign of a true chef. (By the way, I'm pretty sure he's wearing heels in this photograph). 

The great Florida Development, Seaside, is known as one of the best examples of new urbanism in the world. It is also probably the first use of Modern Form Based Code. Form based code is a means or regulating development to create a specific urban form. At Seaside the developers wanted to create a "traditional seaside community" so they imposed strict zoning regulations to achieve that look and feel. Early Seaside architects found the zoning very restrictive and difficult to work in, but those same restrictions led great architects, like former Yale School of Architecture Dean, Robert A.M. Stern, to create the home below. 

"We had to think about getting the maximum amount of space out of a minimum amount of floor area," Stern said while trying to adhere to the communities strict design requirements which limit height, roof slope, and materials.

On a simpler level, I was reminded of this idea upon seeing a photograph of Oregon's Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort. It's got about 1,000 feet of above-tree-line skiing, something we in the east rarely get to experience. I used to imagine how much fun it would be to ski above tree-line. There are no limits, you can go wherever you want. But after having skied some amazing places around the world, I've discovered, what I find most fun is glade skiing. It's the most challenging, it makes you a better skier, and it's exhilarating.

Limits do not restrict us. They create opportunities for us to be even better. The next time someone is limiting you, don't get upset, think instead of what you can conquer and accomplish.

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