Simanaitis Says

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I CONFESS, I don’t usually read Elle Decor. However, its September 2015 issue caught my interest: “What’s Modern Now?” Being a sometimes Luddite who still likes to think I’m edgy now and again, I figure there’s a lot in this issue to consider.


Its cover shows major trends of the last 100 years, from 1920s Art Deco to today’s Mobile Everything. As a child of the 1940s and 1950s, I recall the organic shapes (and colors: Avocado Green, Desert Sand) of the former and how starkly clean and cool Scandinavian style looked in the latter.

And let’s not forget aluminum everything when a post-war glut of this metal gave us kitchen products in a variety of anodized colors.


Aluminum kitchen products. Image from Aluminum By Design, by Sarah Nichols, Carnegie Museum of Art, Harry N. Abrams, 2000.

Michael Boodro, editor-in-chief, Elle Decor, opens his essay with “When does modern become antiquated?” His example is the typewriter. Let’s see the hands of those who have used one recently. Ever? Boodro notes that half of the Elle Decor staff has never used a typewriter.

I remember fondly my purchase of a German Adler electric typewriter in 1972. I bought it with the proceeds of my R&T freelance article about a Mini Moke, my first non-academic writing (publish-or-perish had its own non-$ reward). Even after computers came along, I kept the Adler, ostensibly for addressing envelopes. Now it resides in its sturdy case, closet-bound.


A sister of my Adler electric typewriter. Image from, website of one of my favorite authors.

What’s new now? Elle Decor makes the point that your aspirations for 21st century modern depend on your age.


A sampling of preferred modern now, depending on your age. This and other images from Elle Decor, September 2015.

I resonate with the timepiece category: Twenty-somethings use their smartphone; many don’t wear watches. The rest of us continue to make statements on our wrists: thirty-somethings prefer the Shinola Runwell; those in their 40s, an Apple watch; 50s, a Cartier Tank; 60s, a Breguet Classique 9067. Me? A Seiko Chronograph Automatic, bought in 1970 on St. Thomas, and still running to the nearest 10 seconds daily, per BBC time stamp.


My Seiko Chronograph Automatic.

Mario Buatta is an American interior designer; clients include the likes of Mariah Carey, Malcolm Forbes, Billy Joel and the U.S. government (he oversaw refurbishing the Blair House). Elle Decor quotes him, “I think the pendulum is taking a swing back to romanticism. In fashion we are seeing more colors, florals and prints. People are responding to happier moments in what they are wearing.”

Jean-Louis Deniot is a French interior designer who combines neoclassicism with French style and American vintage comfort. He says, “Art Nouveau is about to have a second life. Works of Mackintosh, Hoffman, and Loos and the Wiener Werkstatte will become the reference points.”


An Art Nouveau trestle table. Image from Elle Decor, September 2015.

So, in a sense, old becomes new. But there’s new new as well. Victoria Hagan, whose work integrates architecture with interior design, observes, “Modern now is all about space, volume, and the connection between indoors and out.”

Elle Decor identifies engineer Santiago Calatrava as a “starchitect” with a similar point of view. Like other architects before him (Frank Lloyd Wright comes to mind), Calatrava is not without controversy. His projects have been known to go wildly over budget and there’s a law suit concerning falling masonry in one (the City of Arts and Sciences complex, Valencia, Spain, which is seen in the George Clooney film, Tomorrowland).


A Calatrava sculpture, New York City’s Park Avenue. Image from Elle Decor, September 2015.

Says Calatrava, “Of all the arts, I think architecture is the one closest to people…. Our buildings will survive us. So it’s important to deliver architecture that will be valuable to future generations. When I see places like the Guggenheim, the New York Public Library, or the Brooklyn Bridge, I think about the people who created them…. They were paying us enormous respect. They wanted to uplift us. Architecture can be like that: both modern and eternal.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2015

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