- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2006

“Modern” is as modern does. The word fits a number of categories — most recently in the name of Bob Dylan’s new album, “Modern Times” — and soon as the title of the Washington Design Center’s Fall Design House.

Modern With a Capital M, a partnership between the center in Southwest and Metropolitan Home magazine, will be open to the public Friday through Dec. 16.

The term is just vague enough to cover a number of bases and interpretations by eight local interior design and architectural firms invited to apply their talents to one room each in a house. As participant Robert Cole of the District’s ColePrevost firm suggests, “Modernism means different things at different times.” For him, “Modern is synonymous with contemporary — of the moment and the time.”

Modern, says Allison Arieff, outgoing editor of the architecture and design magazine Dwell, “goes beyond style to encompass a system of beliefs, a way of looking at and thinking about the world. … It expresses individuality, truth to materials.”

“If modernism had common threads in the 1920s, they have gone in every possible direction, which I think is healthy,” says Mark McInturff of Bethesda’s Mark McInturff Architects, whose firm has contributed to Design House shows in the past. “At some point, you have to stop using words and work with images.”

Mr. Cole, whose partner is his wife, Sophie Prevost, is taking part in the annual showcase event for the fifth time. He sums up the matter by offering the term “modern sensibility.” In creating the design for a pantry and kitchen, he says, he and his wife were interested in “the feeling aspects,” relating emotionally to color and materials as well as structure.

“Our work is strictly about the experiential: the sensorial level — powers of the senses — and also [about] the intellectual level,” he says. “Metropolitan Home has been clear in their agenda. In looking for a modern sensibility, the editor of the magazine talks about mixing and about how new and old interrelate.”

To counterbalance a recent tendency of people to use black for elegance in kitchens, they decided to use glossy white and turquoise for lightness, he says.

“More and more kitchens you see are almost laboratories,” he notes.

The couple use stainless steel only where it is useful, and they are building extra-large countertops that are 6 inches deeper than the norm. He calls their approach “the theater of the kitchen.” The front stage is for cooking and food preparation, and backstage — presumably the pantry — is storage.

For Darryl Carter of the District’s Darryl Carter Design Group, which is responsible for a wine-tasting room or wine library in the design house, modern is “the departure from the expected.” He says he strives to “reinterpret the typical wine cellar through the use of usual materials executed in a different palette” by taking what he calls “an obscure room with no light and making it a respite.” He does this, in part, by mixing contemporary and antique furnishings.

“I just don’t think that word [modern] exists in the Washington area,” Alireza Honarkar says with a laugh. He is with Division 1 Architects, a Silver Spring firm that is responsible for the concept of an all-steel master bathroom. “I think the ‘m’ stands for ‘missing’ because [the design center] is not really modern. It is very traditional stuff inside that center. Our approach was to look at a bathroom in a whole different way.

“I felt the show should be more about experimenting. By doing an exercise like this, you open up your mind to other things.” Modern, he says, could be interpreted as “alternative — a different way of looking at things: going outside the box to be a little more progressive.”

To that end, his firm imagined a bathroom as “a cleansing and relaxing space” while agreeing that “others may look at it and think ‘jail.’” He says they wanted to look at steel knowing that no one would think about using it in a space like that. The space itself is broken into what he calls “two zones,” and the choice of material, he admits, is expensive — between $50,000 and $100,000 to produce.

“Water becomes the central element whose journey can be traced through a sequence of events,” the formal project description explains. It “travels along the metal sink, and whether the drain is closed or open, the water may continue down the gentle slope into slender channels that become long thin steel fingers that feed water into the space for bathing.”

Janet Bloomberg and Richard Loosle of the District’s Kube Architecture firm take a different tack entirely in thinking about how a foyer should look.

“Clearly, modern is progressive and cutting-edge and about looking for the future to see what is next and what we [architects] should be doing,” Ms. Bloomberg says.

Their way is working with sustainable materials, what she calls the wave of the future.

“The modern aspect [of a Kube project] has to do with choice of materials and a style that is clean, minimal, easy to care for and not decorative in any traditional sense. We believe very much that materials should have a reason to be there and not be extra,” she says. “People don’t understand that materials are beautiful on their own. The beauty of materials meeting is what we do well, using a mix of the rich and the raw.”

Some of the pair’s chosen materials are recycled from fairly common elements. One is a resin used for decorative panels. Another is rubber from recycled tires converted to flooring. They have conceived a 20-square-foot space, an entry area, as a threshold that “gives you a sense of entering something, to give you a real sense of moving through space.” A mirror is included as well, as if to record a person’s movements.

Architect Jordan Goldstein, who teamed with interior designer Jill Goebel, both of the District firm Gensler Architects, says the challenge of doing a modern media room was “in being contemporary and doing it in a warm, inviting way.”

They took their cues from what he identifies as a traditional Japanese home: “You step up on leather-wrap panels and step down into a sunken lounge area with deep carpet.” Tailored upholstery cushions on the platform substitute for a sofa. The audio-visual equipment is displayed “as part of the furniture of the room,” which they conceive as a combination family and living room area.

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