No Nation is an Island (Even if It's an Island)

The aesthetic congruity between Japanese and Scandinavian design is self-evident. Both traditions hold a similar attitude toward nature and natural form, both tend to minimalism and share a reverence for craftsmanship. In the field of architecture there was a reciprocal influence between the cultures throughout the Twentieth Century, with Alvar Aalto, who is essentially revered by modern Japanese architects, being particularly vocal in his appreciation of traditional Japanese architecture and design. In graphic and pattern design, the Japaneque is very much a part of the design vocabulary of Marimekko, while contemporary Japanese designer Yurio Seki has collaborated with Swedish craft maven Lotta Jansdotter and is responsible for the design of the first monograph on the work of renowned graphic designer Olle Eksell to be published outside of his native Sweden.


Yurio Seki: Japanese Graphic Designer
? 2008: Yurio Seki

This is the first comprehensive monograph on the work of Yurio Seki and her brand Salvia. Seki is one of the most popular graphics designers in Japan with an instantly recognizable style and palette. Along with a complete presentation of the Salvia pattern and product designs, this book features an extensive selection of her book designs and other print work. Unfortunately, as this is a specially imported domestic publication from Pie Books, all text is in Japanese. (2008: PIE Books; ISBN 9784894446496)


Olle Eksell: Swedish Graphic Designer
? 2007: Olle Eksell

Olle Eksell (1918-2007) was a pioneering figure in Swedish graphic design.Typical of the industry in Sweden, Eksell maintained a diverse practice, working in illustration, corporate identity and editorial design, fabric and textile design, and as a design educator and writer. However, it was his advocacy of the modern conception of graphic design and his 1964 textbook Design-Economy that were most influential in the development of the industry in Sweden. His work is uniformly subtle, beautiful and gentle. Another domestic publication from Pie Books with the majority of its text in Japanese. (2007: PIE Books; ISBN 9784894445475)



Alvar Aalto: Through the Eyes of Shigeru Ban
? 2007: Shigeru Ban, Juhani Pallasmaa & Tomoko Sato

Based on a 2007 exhibition by the same name held at the Barbican Art Gallery in London, this beautifully produced catalogue examines the development of Aalto’s architectural style, reproducing models, drawings, photographs and artifacts from 14 of his key projects. Curated by renowned Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who, despite the generational and geographical divide, is perhaps the most most legitimate heir to Aalto’s architectural vision. (2007: Black Dog Publishing; ISBN 9781904772644)



To purchase any of the products or titles mentioned here, please visit our downtown Toronto location, call us toll-free at 1-800-56-swipe or e-mail us at:

Niemeyer and Costa and the Concrete Jungle

While it is correct to view Mid-Century Modern more as a category of collectibles than as a coherent design movement, the term is also useful as a shorthand for the pseudo-futuristic style that swallowed Modernism and regurgitated it as American roadside kitsch. It is unfortunate that the wash of nostalgia for Naive Modernism and Mid-Century decor has swept up the work of designers, like George Nelson or Charles and Ray Eames, who were clearly more ambitious. One wonders also at the current popularity of Brazilian Modernist master Oscar Neimeyer, who, along with Lucio Costa, realized the most ambitious urban development scheme in modern history: the de novo creation of the new Brazilian capital, Brasília. Neimeyer’s contribution to the development of Modernism as it is applied to institutional and civic architecture go far beyond his stylistic experimentation with reinforced concrete. One sees the enduring influence of Brazilian Modernism more in the form and structure of the suburban planned communities of the 1960s, such as Toronto’s Don Mills, than in the curvy concrete details of their embedded shopping malls.


Oscar Niemeyer Houses
? 2006: Alan Hess & Alan Weintraub

Oscar Niemeyer Houses showcases the houses built by this seminal modern architect with large-format images, design sketches and architectural renderings. Viewed as a collection, these houses demonstrate the wide range of Niemeyer’s skill and show a side of his work that is little known and underappreciated. (2006: Rizzoli; ISBN 9780847827985)


Oscar Niemeyer Buildings
? 2009: Alan Hess & Alan Weintraub

Niemeyer is known primarily for his large-scale institutional and civic designs throughout Brazil and Europe – daringly conceptual works that challenged Twentieth-Century Modernist orthodoxy with their iconoclastic structure and use of materials. This comprehensive book, a companion to Rizzoli’s Oscar Niemeyer Houses, presents a reevaluation of his greatest buildings, in all-new color photography specially commissioned for this book. (2009: Rizzoli; ISBN 9780847831906)


Oscar Niemeyer: Curves of Irreverence
? 2008: Styliane Philippou

Oscar Niemeyer: Curves of Irreverence explores the development of Niemeyer’s extraordinary body of ideas and forms as well as his role in the construction of Brazil’s modern image and cultural tradition. With insightful essays and extensive floor plans, this book provides a comprehensive survey of the Niemeyer’s important buildings, from his Mid-Century projects as chief architect for the new capital of Brasília to the spectacular Niterói Museum of Contemporary Art, completed in 1996. Highly recommended. (2008: Yale University Press; ISBN 9780300120389)



CASE: Lucio Costa Brasilia’s Superquadra
? 2005: Fares el-Dahdah ed.

No discussion of Brazilian modernism can be complete without reference to Lucio Costa’s ambitious (and infamous) urban plan for Brasília, the Plano Piloto. While Costa’s plan could never be implemented today, it remains useful as a starting point in questioning the role of urban design. In this volume of Case el-Dahdah has collected essays from acclaimed scholars discussing Costa’s unique contribution to urban planning. (2005: Prestel Publishing; ISBN 3791331574)


Brazil’s Modern Architecture
? 2007: Elisabetta Andreoli ed. & Adrian Forty ed.

An incredibly comprehensive guide to Brazil’s architectural Modernism, as viewed by contemporary Brazilian scholars. Editors Andreoli and Forty opt to divide the book thematically, rather than chronologically, a move which provides fresh perspectives into this unique period in architectural history. Accompanied by gorgeous photographs and schematics from the period. (2007: Phaidon; ISBN 9780714848457)


An extensive interview from Vice TV in which Neimeyer, age 101, recollects the Brasília project.


To purchase any of the products or titles mentioned here, please visit our downtown Toronto location, call us toll-free at 1-800-56-swipe or e-mail us at:

I Know She Should Be an Inspiration But, Damn, on Some Level She Really Makes You Want to Quit. Not Quit to Reinvent Yourself, But Just Quit Designing Altogether and Go Work as a Desk Clerk at a Sleazy Motel or Something.


Let’s begin with a bio lifted outright from the credit line of an article Bantjes wrote for the AIGA website (which, in the nature of these things, we will assume is autobiographical):

Marian Bantjes is a designer, artist and writer working internationally from her base on a small island off the west coast of Canada, near Vancouver. She was trained as a book typesetter (1984–1994) and was a straight-up graphic designer from 1994–2003. But it is her more recent, highly personal, obsessive and sometimes strange graphic work that has since brought her international recognition.

If you know her work already then you’ll know what you think of it and whether you want to buy this wonderful little book or not. If you don’t know her work, check out her web-site. Take your time. When you’re done then pop back here (if you can even remember where you started from). We’ll just insert all the price and bibliographic information here in the meantime.

Designer and Design 066: Marian Bantjes
? 2008: Marian Bantjes cdnmapleleaf, Émilie Lamy & Debbie Millman

Marian Bantjes beautiful work integrates calligraphic typography and illustration with astounding originality. So idiosyncratic that it brings to mind everything from the gestural calligraphy of Martin Andersch to Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur to the work of contemporary Iranian designers like Mehdi Saeedi. (2008: Pyramyd Editions; ISBN 9782350171265)


Eye Magazine 72
? 2009: John Walters


OK, so, she’s insanely talented, obviously highly committed to her craft and uncompromising … and has a career vector so extraordinary* that it flies in the face of virtually all design industry convention (and possibly, if you’re a struggling Canadian designer, your assumptions about the nature of the universe). Reading what Sagmeister, Bierut, Millman, and all have to say about her, it seems like it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person. And yes, Bantjes is always very thankful for the support she has received from colleagues and rightly calls attention to her hard work and an undeniably brave decision to give up her traditional design practice to pursue her passion. Seriously though, looking at her website it’s hard not to want to pinch her to see if she is dreaming (and, by extension, that we are all just figments of her nocturnal imagination). A $77,000 Chopard diamond pendant? Really?

Bantjes mentions in her cover story in the current issue of Eye Magazine (oh, did we forget to mention that she has the cover story in the current issue of Eye Magazine?) her regret at not having given up her design practice sooner, but, six months earlier, or later and who knows what might have happened? Chaos theory posits that, when initial conditions are just right, the beating of a butterfly’s wing can start a hurricane. More commonly, however, the butterfly barely succeeds in ruffling a ladybug’s hair. Congratulations Marian but, for everyone’s sake, please don’t pinch yourself.

* I just read the Eye interview and discovered Walters begins with an almost identical observation (he uses “trajectory” rather than vector – which is the word I was looking for in the first place). Damned if I’m going to rewrite now, though it occurs to me that Bantjes is likely pretty sick of the how surprised everyone seems to be by her success. – David


To purchase any of the products or titles mentioned here, please visit our downtown Toronto location, call us toll-free at 1-800-56-swipe or e-mail us at:

Material (Dis)Honesty

Despite recent suggestions that irony is dead, we’ve recently seen a minor flood of products wherein the key design concept is an ironic shift from one material to another. Early examples include the Happy to Serve You coffee cup, a ceramic version of the iconic New York City diner paper cup, and several quasi-art pieces from the often clever Vancouver-born designer Tobias Wong. More recent examples typically retain a familiar form (the plastic water bottle or the paper cup) while replacing an environmentally dubious material with something more acceptable or, at least, less disposable. Others seem to juxtapose a mundane or malevolent form against a more refined or benevolent function. While we reserve judgment on the enduring cultural significance of these products, we are obliged to acknowledge that they strike a chord, with I Am Not a Paper Cup being among our all-time best-selling gift items.


I Am Not a Paper Cup, Ceramic Coffee Cup
? 2007: James Burgess

Almost inconceivably popular, this double-walled porcelain cup, with its silicone drinking lid, is virtually indistinguishable from its disposable paper analogue. An odd mix of the advantages and disadvantages of both the paper cup and the ceramic mug that you will either love or find annoying on every level. Either way, it is dishwasher safe.


also available are:

I Am Not a Paper Cup Lids

These silicone lids fit both the I.A.N.A.P.C. and a standard “Grande” paper cup.

Set of 3: $11.95


We Are Happy To Serve You, Ceramic Cup
? 1963 (2003): Leslie Buck & Graham Hill

Created in 1963 by the Sherri Cup Company (now a division of Solo), more than 180,000,000 Greek key Anthora (sic.) cups are carried out of New York delis and coffee shops annually. It can be spotted in virtually any film or television that features an authentic-looking New York cop and a cup of joe. In 2003 Exception Lab began producing a ceramic version of this quintessential New York icon. Dishwasher friendly and certified lead free.



Seletti Porcelain Estetico Quotidiano (Daily Aesthetics) Line
? 2007: Design Selab & Alessandro Zambelli

From their website and product lines, one gets the impression that Seletti and Design Selab would like to think of themselves as the Italian ‘Droog’. Their Estetico Quotidiano series of porcelain and borosilicate glass serving items appropriates the forms of throw-away food and beverage containers to create an ironic table setting. All items are microwave and dishwasher safe.

Glass Water Bottle, 1L: $44.95
Porcelain Detergent Bottle Vase: $59.95
Porcelain Storage Can: $24.95
Porcelain Espresso Coffee Pot: $29.95
Porcelain Coffee Stirrer: $2.95


Fred Worldwide Glassware
? 2009: Liz Goulet Duboi for Fred Studio

The enterprising and prolific Liz Goulet Duboi repurposes the ubiquitous cardboard milk carton and plastic sandwich bag to produce a curious creamer and candy dish in borosilicate glass for Fred Studio.

Half Pint Milk Carton: $19.95
Unzipped Glass Zipper Bag: $29.95

Or, for a more intentioned take on the concept:


Villa Delirium: The Art of Krafft
? 2002: Charles Krafft

A working artist for decades, Charles Krafft (known facetiously as “the oldest promising young artist in Seattle”) finally achieved notoriety in the late 1990s with his “Porcelain War Museum Project”, recreating the AK-47s, pistols, and hand grenades of the Balkans conflict in a series of Delft-painted porcelain objects, produced in collaboration with Slovenian artists collective Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK). The first monograph on this idiosyncratic artist, Villa Delirium samples Krafft’s entire body of work in sixty colour photographs. (2002: Grand Central Press / Last Gasp; ISBN 0867195746)



To purchase any of the products or titles mentioned here, please visit our downtown Toronto location, call us toll-free at 1-800-56-swipe or e-mail us at: