Here at loud paper we have been noticing Target’s attempt to shake up their image with a new print ad campaign, so when the Michael Graves Designs line was announced, we felt the need to send Laurel Charles to the local Target to see what gives. Also, in keeping with our continuing pursuit of architecture and pop culture, she reviews Fallingwater, Wright in the Third Dimension, the coolest thing to hit the loud paper offices in years, all two of them.
When the sliding automatic doors opened up and I stepped into the air-conditioned luxury of my local Target store, I braced myself for the worst. Finding a space in the parking lot had been hard enough, but being faced with aisle after aisle of consumer goods wrapped in eau de nacho cheese was doing a lot more for loud paper than was allotted in my intern job description. I was on a mission, though. The task at hand: to find the Michael Graves-designed housewares and give reconnaissance. My suspicion was that Michael Graves was brought in to the Target family to create a showcase line of well-designed products to lift the perception of chain store from grin-and-bear-it staples to exciting must-haves.
I had no problem tracking down Graves’ Postmodern picture frames and candleholders. Huge banners over the section announced "Michael Graves DesignTM." His face and signature were placed on every last tag of every last vase, teapot, and slotted spoon. A trade-show-style display featured the designs and proclaimed that they were "the balance of form and function." While some of the products were both nicely designed and well priced, for example a brushed aluminum alarm clock or bud vase, other products took on characteristic that were just plain odd. An entire selection of candleholders, cake plates, picture frames and table lamps were reminiscent of Graves’ work for Disney. Each item, ostensibly taking a cue from Mickey Mouse’s shoes, was supported by a tripod of what can be best described as antiqued metal turds. In the kitchenware department, cooking pots and utensils had bulbous metal and rubber handles that were functionally off-balance and felt like holding a large Roma tomato in your hand. The $39.95 toaster and reworked Allessi teapot did stick out in the collection as cute interpretations of contemporary classics.
Target’s image has been revamped in the last year. The print ad campaign in the New York Times Sunday Magazine continues to catch my eye. The company is obviously positioning itself as the source for attractive items at an affordable price; they are, as their web page puts it, "putting the fun in functional." The Graves items were thoroughly picked over and mostly sold out, so the shoppers must be responding.
But the Graves marketing campaign didn’t hold my attention for long. Black, rubber utensils from OXO were hung on an adjacent wall. These products, which recently won an award from I.D. magazine, are functionally astute and their industrial aesthetic is quite pleasing. The OXO utensils could actually be hung from kitchen hooks, while the Graves products were designed to only fit in the Graves-designed utensil holder, or stuck in a drawer. In an Iron Chef cook off, I would much rather have the OXO whisks and ladles by my side. For the same price, they were infinitely better ergonomically for spooning escarole or tuna casserole.
By this time my infatuation with Target was growing greater and greater. I ooh-ed and ah-ed over Japanese rice bowls in sea foam green glaze. In fact, there was a whole Zen-inspired line of china with a design that I thought only existed in the boutique stores in the area. I admired the metal motel chairs in lime green which retail for only $29. They rested next to plastic patio-ware colored orange, purple and blue. They had all the makings for a Luau, Gidget-style.
The most impressive display, however, was the Bodum line in the housewares section. Rows of color and sleek design caught my eye and I immediately picked up a slim, minimal pitcher in white plastic that I knew was coming home with me. A shopper passing by commented on how ugly the purple plastic trays were, but she ended up buying one in white because it was a "good value" at $1.99. We were at the check out together. I told her that Bodum was a very cool company from Switzerland. She didn’t care. She just wanted something easy to clean for outdoor use.
This is the crux of my idea of perfect design: affordable, functional and beautiful. My fellow Target shopper bought the Bodum tray for the value. I thought it looked cool. In the end, I walked out of Target with a $6.29 Bodum pitcher realizing that the store was, despite, rather than because of Graves, getting design to the people. Now the question is, where’d I park my car?
Painting you can see, you can get it with your eye; music you can hear; but a building you must experience. - Frank Lloyd Wright, 1953
I have yet to make my pilgrimage to Bear Run so, up until this point, Fallingwater has only existed for me in the limited number of photographs and drawings. But, Fallingwater, Wright in the Third Dimension, put out by View Productions, has changed my perception of this canonical classic. I’m not referring to a book, but a 3D View-Master with 3 discs of images that cover the interior, the exterior and details of the house.
This is definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. It’s whimsical, yet educational and the three-dimensional views of such details as the plunge pool and the absolutely incredible Hindu goddess Parvati on the bridgeway yield an amazing perspective of the building. Other minute details of the construction, like the slide, "Desk in the West Bedroom," where the desk is cut away in a semi-circle in order to let the window open, add to the experience of actually visiting the site.
There is a childlike thrill of holding the black plastic View-Master toy up to your eyes. I half expected Dumbo not Fallingwater in focus, but the project is neither kitsch nor cutesy. The discs are packaged in a plastic floppy disc case with a foldout booklet that features drawings, an introduction to the building, and little slots into which the discs slide neatly. The whole thing fits together perfectly.
Fallingwater, Wright in the Third Dimension also fills a unique place in architectural representation and preservation. Presently, steel beams and columns, which were added in 1997, are propping up the building; a fact that the View-Master slides makes no attempt to mask. News reports of the concrete floors sagging up to 6 inches have been circulating. It is unclear what future renovations or reconstructions of Fallingwater might arise, but the 3D slides are a witness to a moment in architectural history. View-Master toys were always the ultimate souvenirs to take home from Disneyland or Sea World. They were a way of keeping memories of places you’ve been.